Busy week? We get it. Let us get you afloat of this week’s main story. Here are some highlights from “That Sinking Feeling.”
The February sinking of the Dennis Gayle
represented a small victory in an ongoing problem: derelict boats on Humboldt Bay. When the Gayle
’s sister ship the Allen Cody
sank in 2008, hundreds of gallons of oil and fuel spilled into the bay. Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) team leveraged the costs of that cleanup to convince the Dennis Gayle’
s owner to scrub the 100-foot former fishing vessel of hazardous materials. That action prevented a potentially serious spill when the Dennis Gayle
went down, but it also highlights how serious of a threat dilapidated boats pose to the bay.
1. The Coast Guard has an ongoing list of “abandoned vessels” on Humboldt Bay
, and other people who work on the bay pointed to boats they’re worried could sink without serious upkeep. There are nine “problem boats” on Humboldt Bay, according to Journal
inquiries (not including the Dennis Gayle
, which is now sitting underwater), and potentially thousands of gallons of fuel and oils aboard each.
2. Boats become derelict because people don’t realize how much upkeep they require.
"The minute that you stop doing maintenance on a boat, it starts deteriorating,” said Zerlang & Zerlang Marine Services owner Leroy Zerlang. People looking for a party boat, or a cheap place to live, or chasing that dream of global circumnavigation usually end up underwater quickly.
3. Another exacerbating factor is a 2003 federal buyback program intended to stabilize the crab and shrimp fishing markets.
Congressional approval bought the fishing permits off of boats up and down the West Coast, leaving the boats unable to make money — effectively ending the ability to maintain many of them. The Dennis Gayle
and Allen Cody
were buyback boats that fell into disrepair once their working lives came to an end.
4. A lack of funding makes it hard for anyone to pre-empt derelict boats from sinking.
There are no abatement funds for commercial ships. The Humboldt Bay Harbor District and the city of Eureka, with help from Zerlang and others, often eats the costs of hauling at-risk ships out of the water. Or they put liens on boats neglected by their owners — a long and costly process.
5. Which leaves OSPR and others with little to motivate boat owners other than attempts to reason with them.
"You don't have a violation until the fuel's in the water," said OSPR biologist Jeff Dayton. Still, he and others try and explain to boat owners that they are responsible for the costs of spills and associated cleanups. Sometimes it’s effective, often it’s not. "They talk like they're receptive — but their actions aren't receptive," said OSPR Game Warden Josh Zulliger. "People are people."