On June 6, two vessels were found sunken in Boca Ciega Bay and both have been marked with reflective buoys. According to a post on the City of Gulfport Facebook page, one is a 25’ sailing vessel with no mast; the other is a 21’ power vessel. Denis Frain, Director of Marina Operations Gulfport Municipal Marina, said sunken vessels in Boca Ciega Bay is fairly common.
“On average I would say there’s probably a dozen vessels found per year,” he said.
After the sunken vessels were found last week, they were reported to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, Pinellas County Sheriff, the US Coast Guard and the Gulfport Police Marine Patrol Unit.
Currently, the identification numbers from the vessels have yet to be retrieved, but once those are obtained the county will remove the boats and then attempt to contact the owners. If the owners of the boats can be contacted, they are then asked to reimburse the county for removal costs. Frain said sometimes it can be hard, however.
“Often times the original purchaser didn’t transfer the title to the person they sold it to,” he said.
The budget for derelict vessel removal in Florida comes from boat registration fees, said Frain. When residents register a boat, a portion of that goes towards incidents like these. The city incurs no costs for the vessel removals.
Aside from financial costs, sunken and abandoned vessels do harbor an environmental risk. Frain says water quality in Boca Ciega Bay can be affected by derelict boats.
“I believe it has to do with water quality because of kerosene, varnish, household chemicals and fecal matter from the head,” he said. Sailboats pose less of an water quality risk than speed boats, because power boats use oil. “If there was an oil spill from a boat, we would immediately contact the Coast Guard and they would remove it.”
The Gulfport Municipal Marina does not have a timeline yet for the vessel removal. Connor Petren, Environmental Specialist for Pinellas County, has yet to receive a removal request. Officer Marshall of the Gulfport Police Department is in charge of handling the case for the city at this time.