Politics & Government

‘Is this your boat?’ Trump asked. So what happens to boats washed up during Florence?

A boat wound up in the middle of downtown New Bern after Florence

Strong winds and rain led a boat from the water to the middle of downtown New Bern, N.C., post-Hurricane Florence on Sept. 15, 2018.
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Strong winds and rain led a boat from the water to the middle of downtown New Bern, N.C., post-Hurricane Florence on Sept. 15, 2018.

Some state lawmakers on Tuesday were shocked to find out that boats that washed ashore or were sunk during Hurricane Florence – once hazardous materials were removed – were either left where they were found or re-sunk.

Capt. Christian Gillikin of the Atlantic Coast Marine Group told legislators at a meeting that the U.S. Coast Guard activated at a level that only allowed for the removal of hazardous materials, not the removal of the wreck. Gillikin said the state now has to handle the wreck.

After the Coast Guard’s Emergency Support Function 10, known as ESF10, was activated, the guard flagged 383 boats that needed to be salvaged to remove hazardous materials like petroleum fuel, cleaning solution and batteries.

That means if a boat wrecked into a home or garage (or sunk), any hazardous materials on the boat would be removed, but the boat would remain.

There are long-term environmental impacts with leaving boats where hurricanes blew them. Beyond navigational issues from sunken ships, the vessels can also impact the sea habitat and trash can pollute the waterways. If North Carolina had an ESF3 activation instead of an ESF10, Gillikin said the costs to remove and dispose of the boats would be covered by the federal government.

During the meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources, Republican Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County suggested that N.C. Emergency Management request an ESF3 “so that we get more funding.”

“To leave these vessels in the water – to pour water over them, to sink them – and to pollute our water bottoms when they could be easily taken over to salvage, I think is crazy,” McElraft said. “We need to do something about this. We already have enough pollution in our waters to begin with.”

When asked about contacting owners, Gillikin said they have been able to reach owners based on the registration numbers on the boats, but some of those registration numbers are “bogus,” he said.

McElraft also was concerned about the cost of removing the vessels. Gillikin said if the vessels had been removed at the same time as the hazardous materials it could cut the costs in half. There is no current cost estimate to remove them.

Now that hazardous materials have been removed, Gillikin suggested the state fund an assessment to remove and dispose of any remaining ships. Gillikin said Atlantic Coast Marine Group estimates “approximately half or slightly more” of the original 383 ships are left. Once the assessment is done, a fee could be assessed for removal – $395 per foot.

Gillikin also suggested the General Assembly look into enacting legislation that would require any boat that is registered with the state to have minimum liability insurance in order to cover any future costs related to losses, salvages and recovery, storm damages, operator error and vessel neglect. He said that would help shift some of the financial burden away from the state.

IMG_TRUMP_FLORENCE_18_3_1_8KEFN2DO_L418705947.JPG
President Donald Trump looks at a sailboat in a yard while surveying Hurricane Florence damage in New Bern, N.C., Sept. 19, 2018. DOUG MILLS The New York Times

Gillikin’s presentation seemed to address a question many people had after President Donald Trump visited New Bern on Sept. 19 – does a New Bern resident who had a yacht wash ashore on his property get to keep the boat?

During his visit to New Bern, Trump noticed the yacht, and asked the property owner if the boat was his. It was not. Trump then responded, “at least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” Later in the visit Trump said: “They don’t know whose boat that is. What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs.”

While it’s unlikely the homeowner would actually keep the yacht, it’s likely it could stick around for a bit.

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