Ship Wrecked

Boat owners drowning in the economy are sinking their ships by the dozens. We're all paying the price.

The rusted prow of a 35-foot boat juts from Maul Lake, a placid pool just a stone's throw from Biscayne Boulevard and 163rd Street. Its windows are shattered, its hull is tangled in reeds, and its roof is streaked with lime green spray paint.

Somebody decided it was easier to abandon ship than to keep paying thousands in docking fees and maintenance.

"That was someone's dream," says Ofcr. Jorge Pino, an agent with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Someone probably dumped their life savings into that vessel."

The state has already identified 1,500 derelict boats around Florida this year — and the problem will likely worsen until the economy recovers. Officers will remove 20 junked boats around Miami-Dade by June.

It's bad news for taxpayers. Boat recovery operations cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The state legislature recently granted $1.5 million to Fish and Wildlife to deal with the problem — but it might not be enough.

Plus the wrecks threaten shipping lanes and pollute waterways. "We wish boat owners would simply be responsible for their vessels," Pino says. "Don't burden me and the taxpayers of Florida with having to pay to fix your mess."

Pino's agency tries to track down the marine scofflaws. The agency has six full-time officers investigating derelict boat cases. One is based here. Each boat bears an identification number that officers can use to find owners. Those who are caught face misdemeanor charges and fines equal to the cost of removing the boat.

But many file off the ID number and remove the boat's name before scuttling. Pino is philosophical as he ponders the Maul Lake abandoned ship: "You probably could have even lived on that boat in better times."

 
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