Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Ship Wrecked
They're polluting our waters and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. We're talking about wrecked and abandoned boats and owners who can't or won't take care of them. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- In its heyday, this yacht was a big screen star. It made cameos in shows like "Batman" and "Some like it with Hot" with Marilyn Monroe, even the 1988 movie "Tequila Sunrise." But today the yacht named "The Lovely Lady" is lovely no more. She's now partially underwater in the Miami River.
Jim Blythe: "It's a shame to see what happened to it."
Jim Blythe says the boat is blocking access to his marina.
Jim Blythe: "It blocks over 50 percent of the entire waterway. It limits and restricts use of the facility."
The Coast Guard has an open investigation into the boat and calls it a hazard to navigation and says, on top of everything else, the boat has leaked fuel into the river.
Lt. Theo Vaughan: "We have an active pollution incident."
Lt. Theo Vaughan says it took the Coast Guard several days to clean up the fuel spill.
Lt. Theo Vaughan: "We consider it a harmful quantity."
Lt. Theo Vaughan: "Luckily, we've been able to collect most of it."
Carmel Cafiero: "The Lovely Lady is just one of many problem vessels in Florida waters. The state estimates there are 1,500 derelict boats right now, and that number is expected to rise if the economy continues to go down."
Taxpayers will spend more than half a million dollars this year to remove 150 of the most dangerous sunken boats.
Officer Jorge Pino: "We're not going to allow boaters to think that Florida is a dumping ground for vessels. That's not going to happen."
It's Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Jorge Pino's job to track down deadbeat boat owners.
Officer Jorge Pino: "There's a big houseboat there partially submerged."
Officer Jorge Pino: "That barge has been sunk for quite some time."
Officer Jorge Pino: "That is a perfect example of what a derelict vessel is."
Finding the owners can be a challenge since sometimes officers find ID numbers are removed before boats are sunk.
Officer Pino believes tough economic times are forcing people to take desperate measures.
Officer Jorge Pino: "There's no doubt the economy is probably playing some sort of a role when it comes to people abandoning their vessels."
But if caught there's a fine, not to mention the possibility of jail. In cases where authorities know the owner, like The Lovely Lady, they try to negotiate a solution.
Jorge Pino: "We try to work with them to try to get them enough time to gather the funds necessary to remove the vessels."
But time is running out. The Coast Guard says the boat is in bad shape.
Lt. Theo Vaughan: "The wood hull is severely rotten and in disrepair."
Stephen Hammer: "I don't believe there's any rotted wood in the boat."
Owner Stephen Hammer admits the boat has her problems, but he's sunk big money and big dreams into the old girl...
Stephen Hammer: "I have $2 million and 12 years of my life into this boat, and that didn't come as leaving it as a derelict."
... and still hopes she can be preserved.
Stephen Hammer: "I think this boat ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time."
There's no doubt owning a boat can cost a lot of money. Saving one that is underwater can sink a budget.