DOTTING the pristine waterways of Puget Sound are the nautical versions of abandoned homes. Decrepit hulks founder and list until one day they sink, bringing down an entire neighborhood of sea life with pollution. More often than not, taxpayers are stuck with the cleanup bill because the owners are predictably absent.
This is by now a familiar story. Cleaning up the mess that the derelict vessel Deep Sea left in mussel-rich Penn Cove in 2012 cost the state $2.8 million. In October, the tug boat Chickamauga spilled nearly 300 gallons of fuel into Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor. The list goes on.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson last week added needed muscle to the issue of derelict vessels by criminally charging the owners of two hulks, including the Chickamauga.
The cases are the first state environmental crime prosecutions against derelict vessel owners, and Ferguson says they won’t be the last. The charges send an unequivocal message of accountability. You buy it, you own it. You break it, you fix it.
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The higher goal is prevention. The Legislature last year gave the Department of Natural Resources, the steward of the public seabed, more tools. Vessels larger than 65 feet and more than 40 years old must be inspected before sale, and a voluntary turn-in program was created.
But the costs of cleaning up derelict vessels are still being borne by recreational boaters, who pay $3 extra at annual registration, and not by commercial vessel owners, whose messes end up being the most expensive and damaging.
It is only fair for commercial vessels to pay their share, potentially through a fee added to commercial moorage, and requiring big boats to have insurance. A single large commercial vessel can bust the DNR’s entire derelict vessel removal budget.
On the state’s vessels of concern list are vessels with names such as “Bodacious” and “Porte de la Reine.” Best to keep the colorful names on the sides of the vessels, and not on the bottom of the Puget Sound.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).