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Boats breaking loose in Martin County highlights derelict vessel problem

'Derelict vessels are guaranteed to get free,' Martin County chief deputy says
A Nov. 17, 2023 photo of a boat that had broken free of its mooring near the Jensen Beach Causeway.PNG
Posted at 12:24 PM, Nov 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 12:58:34-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The Martin County Sheriff's Office is highlighting the danger of derelict vessels after WPTV reported at least seven broke loose during high winds Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

Chief Deputy John Budensiek said all seven vessels that were ripped from their moorings were properly tethered, yet derelict vessels usually aren't properly tied down and break free, even without high winds.

Budensiek said had there been derelict vessels in that particular area, they almost certainly would have caused more damage and possibly even injury.

"The seven boats properly anchored, they got free," Budensiek said. "Those derelict vessels are guaranteed to get free. They have lived past their shelf life. They're dumped essentially out here, and they're just waiting on a bad event to take place."

Budensiek said derelict vessels are a problem the sheriff's office consistently deals with as navigational hazards.

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So far, Budensiek said the sheriff's office, with the help from Martin County and the Florida Inland Navigational District, has removed 12 derelict vessels and is working on removing four more.

However, it's a process that takes time and money. Budensiek said it can take years to remove and can cost about $6,000 to $7,000 of taxpayer money, even with applying to FIND for grants every year.

"It's expensive for the county, it's expensive for the state, and then our deputies are out there risking their lives trying to secure these vessels that are floating off on the sides of the channels unnecessarily," Budensiek said.

Technically, illegal dumping is a crime in Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said derelicts are a concern because they can endanger marine life and habitat, pose threats to public safety and cause property damage as they drift on or beneath the water's surface.

"Some people ask, 'So why don't we charge [people who dump derelict vessels] with illegal dumping, which is a crime?' And we do try to do that," Budensiek said. "But people that we talk to say, 'Hey, we were down on our luck, we ran out of money, and we intend to come back and live in that eventually when we have the money.' But that never happens, so these boats continually degrade out here in the salt water."

Budensiek said boat owners have 21 days to come claim their vessel once a deputy tags it. If they don't, they can be charged with illegal dumping.