Public on hook for $millions when big, old boats sink

Uninsured, unmaintained once-fine-old tug hauled out of water before disposal.
Uninsured, unmaintained once-fine-old tug Chickamauga hauled out of water before disposal.

One of DNR’s priorities is to avoid expensive taxpayer-funded clean-up of large sunken vessels contaminating Washington’s public waterways. What we’re trying to avoid? One example: Last winter the Chickamauga—a hundred-year-old tugboat—sank in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, requiring more than $55,000 in state funding to haul and dispose of, and an unknown cost for clean up by the US Coast Guard of the leakage and pollution.

The costly sunken 70-foot Chickamauga was just one of many examples that prompted passage of a new state law that will help make a difference in the long term, and applies to both commercial and private vessels. The new requirements are designed to place responsibility on vessel owners, and significantly reduce the potential financial impacts to the public. This statute requires that owners have insurance for vessels 65-feet or longer and 40-years or older…and that marinas compel owners of vessels in their moorage to have insurance (although most marinas already have the requirement). Also required is an inspection of a vessel’s condition before the vessel is sold to a potential buyer.

Close-up detail of tug Chickamauga hull shows deeply rotted, unmaintained wood.
Close-up detail of tug Chickamauga hull shows deeply rotted, unsealed wood.

Washington State has had a rich and vigorous maritime history that continues today. With our thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of square miles of marine and fresh waters in the state, vessels of the mosquito fleet, tugboats, fishing boats, barges are important parts of our heritage. But sometimes, preventive care has not been taken as they age, and they are not inexpensive to care for.

“Preventing damage is so much less expensive than taking action after a calamity occurs. In recent years, the public has paid millions of dollars for hauling, cleaning up pollution and disposing of older, larger vessels that have sunk and contaminated the public’s aquatic lands,” said DNR’s Aquatic Division Manager Kristin Swenddal. “We want to address the problem earlier in the life cycle of these vessels, when it is less expensive.”

DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program works with a vessel owner to take responsibility to deal with their at-risk or derelict vessel, and if necessary,  remove it from the waters before it sinks and endangers sea critters and habitat with oils and other contamination.

Kitsap Sun 2013 Article on the Chickamauga

Kitsap Sun 2014 Article on new law