The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report addressing federal and state actions, expenditures and challeges on abandoned and derelict vessels. The report notes that the ability of the federal government to respond to such incidents is largely limited to those vessels, that create a hazard to navigation, they threat of a spill of oil or hazardous substance, or present a public health threat.
GAO explains that federal agencies respond to ADV, in accordance with federal law, interagency agreements, and funding availability. Federal laws and the National Contingency Plan—the government’s blueprint for responding to oil and hazardous substance releases—establish federal agency roles for leading a response to an ADV-related incident based on various factors, such as the type of ADV threat posed and its location Interagency agreements have also helped to guide federal ADV response efforts. The following figure shows specifically Key Federal Agency Responses to Abandoned and Derelict Vessels.
According to NOAA, severe weather events, financial hardships, and the potentially high costs for owners to properly remove vessels from waterways all increase the likelihood that vessels will become abandoned or derelict. For example, states that are subject to frequent storms or hurricanes may be especially susceptible to derelict vessels. In addition, financial hardships may lead to an increase in the number of ADVs as vessel owners no longer have the financial resources to properly care for their vessels leading to their abandonment and disrepair. The high cost of properly disposing vessels that owners no longer want may also lead vessel owners to abandon their vessels.
State ADV-related Laws
According to GAO analysis of state laws from all 30 coastal states, state laws that address ADVs vary. For example, 25 of the 30 coastal states have laws that define the terms “abandoned” or “derelict” vessels.9 In states that have a process for designating a vessel as “abandoned” for removal, state laws vary with respect to the amount of time between when a state identifies a potential ADV and when the state is authorized to remove it—ranging up to 6 months. Moreover, 24 of the 30 coastal states prohibit abandoning a vessel or require that the owner remove an abandoned or derelict vessel under certain circumstances after notice from the state.
Some coastal states also have legal mechanisms in place to dissuade vessel owners from abandoning their vessels. For example, 21 of the 30 coastal states have laws that include civil penalties for abandoning or failing to remove a vessel after notice from the state, while 12 of the 30 states impose criminal penalties for abandoning or failing to remove a vessel after notice from the state.
In general, the Coast Guard has primary responsibility for responses to pollution threats posed by all sources in the coastal zone, whereas the EPA exercises these authorities in the inland zone. However, in 2016, Coast Guard issued field guidance stating that it does not have the authority or resources to investigate, respond to, or remove marine debris, unless the debris poses pollution, public safety, or hazard to navigation threats. The guidance states that Coast Guard field units are to refer abandoned vessel issues that do not involve pollution or hazard to navigation threats to state authorities.
Federal agencies reported they generally did not have funding to support actions beyond responding to ADVs posing navigation, pollution and public health threats, nor were they required to do so by federal law or agency policy. The officials said also that the costs to remove ADVs are unpredictable and can be significant.
State ADV programs
Half of the states that responded to the survey (14 of 28) reported having state run programs that conduct ADV-related activities, including prevention, response, and removal activities. The types of ADV–related activities these 14 states were implementing varied and included the following selected efforts.
- Tracking ADVs: Eight of the 28 states reported tracking ADVs and ADV-related information in an ADV-specific database or general marine debris database that includes ADVs. For example, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Derelict Vessel Removal Program tracks ADVs using NOAA’s ERMA geographic information system database. By using ERMA, state officials said they can actively identify and track “vessels of concern,” which are those vessels that are in danger of becoming derelict. Washington DNR has a prioritizing process to valuate these vessels relative to their potential threats to human health and safety and the environment, and uses the information to guide vessel removal funding decisions.
- Vessel turn-in programs: Six of the 28 states reported that their ADV programs included a vessel turn-in program. Generally for smaller recreational vessels, the programs allow an owner to turn over custody of a vessel to public agencies to prevent its potential abandonment. For example, the Oregon State Marine Board reports that its vessel turn-in program provides an incentive for vessel owners to avoid financial responsibility for the vessel’s removal, while reducing the state’s potential removal costs and pollution or navigation threats that may be posed should the vessel become an ADV.
- Public outreach and education: Twelve of the 28 states reported conducting public education, training, or outreach as a way to prevent vessels from becoming ADVs. For example, officials from Alabama reported conducting local media outreach programming on local television stations and through publicly distributed newsletters, cleanup activities, and posting of “no anchor” signs to prevent vessel owners from illegally mooring their vessels.
- Coordination with federal and local agencies: Thirteen states reported involvement with ADV-related task forces involving participants from federal, state, and local agencies. For example, following the breakup of the derelict 432-foot barge Davy Crockett in 2011, Washington and Oregon agencies convened task forces in Washington and Oregon to bring stakeholders together to identify and address imminent pollution and hazard to navigation threats posed by derelict vessels, barges, and houseboats along the upper, middle and lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers. The Columbia River Derelict Vessel task force, established in 2011, developed recommendations for state agencies, including to normalize and streamline the process by which state agencies can seize and dispose of vessels, and creating clear process guidance for removal and disposal of vessels. They also recommended normalizing vessel registration requirements between Washington and Oregon to enhance their ability to identify responsible parties when vessels become abandoned. Similarly, since 2008, California has facilitated an informal working group with state and federal agencies, salvage companies, and boating organizations to increase their effectiveness in addressing ADVs.
State Funding for ADV-activities
Twenty-one of the 28 states that responded to the survey reported on their methods for funding ADV-related efforts from fiscal year 2013 through July 2016. These states reported various funding mechanisms including legislative-appropriated budgets, vessel registration fees, and federal grants. For example, thirteen states reported using dedicated ADV funding through legislatively-appropriated budgets and/or vessel registration fees, while three states—New York, South Carolina, and Texas—reported having relied on federal grants to fund their ADV activities.
Detailed information may be found by reading the full report:
Source: US GAO
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