At 6:30 in the morning on Friday, June 6, a fisherman called Frain to report a boat sinking in its slip. Frain, who moved next door to the marina this spring, opened his door and knew he had to act quickly.
“I smelled fuel, so I grabbed the boom and the oils sorbs,” he said. The trawler, a 1981 Hardin 42 called “Prairie Star,” belongs to Lee and Cliff Stapella. Frain says the Stapellas had been preparing the boat for a trip and had just put 500 gallons of fuel on board.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protections (DEP) and the US Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office investigated the sinking and determined Frain had appropriately contained the spill. The Stapellas may still receive a citation, Frain says.
“In instances like this, even if it’s an accidental sinking, the owner will get a fine,” Frain said, adding that some boat owners now purchase fuel spill insurance.
Frain says Boat US raised the boat the same day and towed it to Salt Creek.
He praises the fisherman for his quick actions.
“By the fisherman calling me that early, I was able to prevent a major fuel spill in the marina,” he says.
Just two days prior, Gulfport Police noticed a boat listing and boarded the vessel to see if there was anyone on board who might be injured. Officers notified Frain, who called Boat US to raise the former houseboat and tow it into the marina. Gulfport staff also called the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) area officer and the Coast Guard to check for a fuel spill.
Once all the agencies arrived and prepared to raise the boat, the boat owner showed up and refused assistance. He attempted instead to pump out the partially sinking vessel with the help of a friend, but his attempts failed and the boat sunk.
“From what I understand, and I don’t know if this is the truth, it was being salvaged for usable parts” when it sank, Frain says of the boat, which still remains on the bottom of Boca Ciega Bay. Gulfport has marked the location with a buoy as a warning to other boaters.
“The city will monitor the owners actions, and take appropriate action as warranted,” Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly told the Gabber.