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Derelict Boats Leave Oriental
A change in the law helps clear the waters
May 4, 2021

S
unk in the creeks, washed up on shore, and at least one hanging from a dock piling. Hurricane Florence did as much damage to boats as she did the houses and streets of Oriental. Though most homes have since been repaired, several wrecked vessels were left where and as they were. Decaying in the environment, these abandoned boats can create navigational, environmental, and even economic hazards.

SV Rolling on the River at Ray’s Creekside Marina in 2018. Hurricane Florence left it impaled on a piling. In 2021, it was finally removed.

Dealing with derelict boats is a time consuming process for marina owners, often taking years if an owner decides to abandon their property or, as in one case, continue paying slip rent though the boat in question is not just sunk, but impaled on a piling. It is often a question of jurisdiction, private versus public property, and legal responsibility.

The business is Dead Cow Lane Enterprises. Their barge is called ‘Dead Cow 53’.

However a change in 2020 in the state’s legislative language granted the NC Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC) the authority to declare a vessel as abandoned or derelict – and take action to have it removed in a timely manner.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF), a non-profit that also helped Oriental with the Whittaker Point Restoration project, was in town in April. Under the direction of the WRC, they worked with several other organizations to remove five derelict boats left in Oriental’s waters by Florence.

Pecan Grove Marina Dockmaster Chuck Lawrence photographed the crew removing an abandoned sailboat from private property near the marina. (Chuck Lawrence photo)

Sarah Bodin, representing the NCCF, helped oversee the project. Why only five boats removed? They were the ones that appeared on the WRC website.

Soon after Hurricane Florence, “the Coast Guard went through and did an assessment from the air,” said Bodin. Information also came “from the public calling in.” The Coast Guard is tasked with protecting the waters – they’re not able to remove the vessels, only hazardous materials on board such as gasoline and batteries. They then sticker the boat and leave it where they found it. Even if they haul the boat up to take hazardous items, they have to let it sink again – they have no authority to remove vessels.

In early 2021, the Wildlife Resource Commission came through and added another sticker to the boats – one that began a countdown.

One of several derelict boats removed by the NC Coastal Federation, Moran Environmental Recovery, and Dead Cow Lane Enterprises. This half-sunk sailboat was towed from Grace Evans’ docks on Smith Creek.
A notice on the hull, dated February 8, 2021, started the clock ticking. After 30 days with no contact from the owner, the vessel is deemed abandoned by the Wildlife Resource Commission.

“The WRC stickers vessels in the area that are potentially abandoned or derelict. The send a certified letter to the owner asking if they have plans to remove the vessel,” said Bodin. “After 30 days they [the owner] no longer have rights to the vessel. If the owner does not get in touch with the WRC, then it is officially deemed as abandoned. Then the NC Coastal Federation, through the WRC, has authority to remove the vessel.”

It may sound like an easy way out for owners, but there are penalties for abandonment. An owner who does not have the means or money to remove the vessel, or who does not contact the WRC about their vessel, may be charged with felony littering. The punishment is an extensive fine or even time in jail. Bodin did not know the exact fine amount that could be charged, but had cases where fines reached thousands of dollars.

Loading the boat presented some problems. An improperly aligned twin keel flattened tires, and the weight of mud in the bow drastically shifted the weight. Some draining was required.

As for who paid for the removal, the NC Coastal Federation had two grants to work with. Grant funds from the National Wildlife Foundation can be used to remove vessels from private property – as in the case of the boat from Grace Evan’s docks and Ray’s Creekside Marina. Grant funds from the National Resources Conservation Services program (through the UDSA) is used to remove marine debris as well as abandoned/derelict vessels from public property.

Bodin worked with engineers from Moran Environmental Recovery and Beaufort salvage operation Dead Cow Lane Enterprises to remove the vessels in Oriental.

The second vessel to be removed was Rolling on the River. This boat has been hanging on a piling at Ray’s Creekside Marina since Hurricane Florence.

The first removal viewed by TownDock was a sailboat that had sunk at a dock near the Wildlife Ramp in Smith Creek. That operation, taking about two hours, required the vessel to be floated and towed to the ramp. The major hitch was when the boat was loaded onto the trailer, and the twin keels settled incorrectly resulting in two flat tires – one on each side of the trailer.

Mud had collected in the bow, resulting in uneven weight distribution. Several holes were drilled into the hull to ease the weight before it was taken to a laydown yard and disposed.

The second vessel was at Ray’s Creekside Marina. Rolling on the River ended up impaled on the pilings by Hurricane Florence, half in and half out of the water. Instead of removing the boat, the owner continued paying the slip fee. Marina owner Billy Creech said, “he was the best paying customer I ever had. Rent was in the bank first of every month.” Billy’s wife Donna was more than pleased to see the vessel leave.

An attempt to float the second boat doesn’t go as planned. After patching a hole made by the piling, engineers are unsuccessful at righting the boat and keeping water out.

Because of the precarious position, this boat took a few days and some careful maneuvering to get out of the water. Situated on an interior slip, Rolling on the River first had to be lowered into the water, hopefully on her keel. They tied off the bow at several points, created a wooden rail at the corner of the slip for her to fall against, and then cut the impaling piling.

A patch was applied to the hole in the hull, and the tension was eased on the bow. The weight of the proved to be too great. As she slid onto the wooden rail, it split in two. Rolling on the River came to rest on her side in the slip.

Dead Cow and Moran Environmental attempted to seal off the hatches and other visible holes in the hull. Three pumps were used, but without effect. They worked into the night and were able to use air bags to float the sailboat the next day.

Day two: an air bag is brought in to lend support to the stern while the pumps run. Fully afloat, SV Rolling on the River is ready to be hauled away from Ray’s Creekside Marina.

All told, five boats were removed from Oriental’s waters during the cleanup – a small portion of the 80 vessels slated to be removed from Dare County to Brunswick County. In Oriental, vessels were removed from Ray’s Creekside Marina, Grace Evan’s dock on Smith Creek, private property adjoining Pecan Grove Marina, and two in Greens Creek: one in the marsh, and one upside down and partially submerged.

From the NC Wildlife Resource Commission’s website showing known derelict vessels on the coast. There were reports of seven vessels. Five of them (marked in red) were damaged in Hurricane Florence and removed in April 2021.
A Voluntary Removal
Not all vessels removed from Oriental were the direct result of Hurricane Florence. Some have owners that have aged out and / or are unable to keep up with the maintenance required.

Maintenance neglected, the lines and decks became a home for lichen and algae.

The years took their toll on SV Hirondelle, a Pearson 390 docked at the Oriental Yacht Club. The owners had Ocean Royal LLC, out of Cape Carteret, tow her to Bock Marine for salvage.

Below, Hirondelle departs Oriental’s harbor for the last time.
Related Links
• Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Program Map
Hurricane Florence & Oriental’s Creeks
Sunken Boat Raised in Search of Hazards

Posted Tuesday May 4, 2021 by Allison DeWeese


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