FWC OKs plan to address vessels before they're derelict

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 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission  has addressed the  challenge of removing derelict vessels from Florida waters, which can involve a costly process of locating the owners of these boats and securing permission to haul them out of the water.

The FWC, meeting in Jacksonville this week, approved the final rule establishing a statewide Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) as part of the Derelict Vessel Prevention Program.

The new rule will create a voluntary program to remove at-risk vessels before they become derelict, which helps Florida’s environment and public safety.   

The Division of Law Enforcement’s Boating and Waterways Section is spearheading a multi-year effort to dramatically reduce the backlog of derelict vessels currently on Florida’s waters. These vessels cause the destruction of valuable seagrass resources and endanger marine life. They also threaten human life, safety and property as they drift on or beneath the surface of the water or block navigable waterways, posing a navigational hazard to the boating public.  

Recent legislation enables the FWC to create a Derelict Vessel Prevention Program, and the VTIP is one component of the FWC’s approach to derelict vessel prevention.

“Commissioners receive numerous contacts from the public about derelict vessels and I know the establishment of this new program will really make a difference,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Thanks to the efforts of Senator Ben Albritton, Representative Josie Tomkow, Representative Jay Trumbull and Senator Kelli Stargel, we’ve received the resources and the legislative support to make this program a reality.” 

Derelict vessels are more costly and complicated to remove than at-risk vessels. A VTIP will prevent vessels from becoming derelict by removing them from the state’s waters when they are at risk of becoming derelict, which will result in cost savings for taxpayers and ultimately fewer such vessels appearing on Florida waters. The VTIP is designed to allow owners of vessels at risk of becoming derelict the ability to voluntarily turn the at-risk vessel over to the state for removal and destruction.  

“Derelict vessels are a priority for the FWC. Establishing the Vessel Turn-In Program provides a voluntary pathway for owners to remove at-risk vessels from the water before becoming derelict, thereby reducing future costs of removal. Removing at-risk vessels from Florida’s waterways before they become derelict is not only a win for the environment but also for public safety, taxpayers and the vessel owners,” said  Col. Roger Young, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement. 

The VTIP will enable owners of vessels in state waters, who have been cited or issued a written warning of being at risk of becoming derelict, to turn over ownership to the state, which will then bear the cost of removal.

In a July 14 letter to the FWC board, Col. Roger Young, director of FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement, wrote that the proposed final rule for the VTIP received no opposition at a virtual stakeholder meeting June 14.

The VTIP, created by the Florida legislature, limits eligible participants to titled owners of vessels who have been cited by or received written warning from law enforcement at least once. These owners may not have any lienholders on file with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. For vessels with multiple titled owners, all owners must sign the application for the vessel to be eligible for the VTIP program.

These vessels, which must be state waters and be floating, can “not be in a derelict condition or be the subject of an active derelict vessel investigation by law enforcement,” reads the proposed rule. “If local, state, or federal regulations require mitigation efforts to remove or dispose of contaminants or materials onboard the vessel other than those ordinarily aboard a vessel, the vessel will become ineligible.”

The program calls for the costs of removal, destruction, and disposal of eligible vessels to be funded entirely by the VTIP program. “There will be no cost to the owner(s) for the removal, destruction, and disposal of these vessels,” reads the proposed rule.

The application requires photographs of the vessel to be submitted that include shots of the exterior of the bow and of the stern, the exterior of the starboard and of the port side, the inside of the vessel, and of the entire vessel taken from a distance, and one image showing the vessel’s registration number, federal documentation number and/or Hull Identification Number, if applicable.

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