VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Since November, 10 On Your Side has been reporting on the efforts by Virginia Beach resident Mike Provost, who through his Vessel Disposal and Reuse Foundation and help from a GoFundMe page, has successfully removed five abandoned boats from Virginia Beach waterways.

Provost has made a point of reminding everyone that this was done without federal, state, or local money. 

10 On Your Side is asking these questions: Who do we ultimately hold accountable, and are our elected leaders doing something about this? 

WAVY reached out to Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), who is one of the most powerful leaders in the General Assembly. We asked him if the General Assembly is doing something about the problem.

“They are an eyesore. They are a hazard to navigation, and they are an environmental concern,” Knight said.

Then, who is taking responsibility for taking these derelict vessels out of the water? 

“Right now, it’s nobody,” Knight said.

Nobody. And that really bothers businessman Andy Sutter of the Freedom Boat Club at the Tidewater Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, 

“I have a boat club — someone pays me $5,000 to join the boat club and we get to look at this bulls—,” he said.

Sutter is talking about the Fantasy London, a poster child for derelict vessels sitting in the Elizabeth River.  

Sutter heard the vessel started taking on water. The owner then dumped the Fantasy to become the community’s nightmare.

“It ticks me off. It is an eyesore. We don’t need it here in Portsmouth or Norfolk. We got this excellent area here, and we got this abandoned boat, and no one is doing anything about it.” he said.

That is confirmed by Knight’s statement about nobody being responsible for the abandoned vessels.

It’s not only the Fantasy London. How about the burned-out, sunken remains of a boat that caught fire on December 19, 2020?

The owner of that boat is known as Mike and has tied his Sandpiper to the rusty wreck. 10 On Your Side floated by it.

“That’s the old boat here. You see it here, it just burned down during high tide, so now during low tide we see it and it just sits here,” Sutter said.   

Driving over to the next site, you can see the sunken hull.

“My understanding, the boat sank, they raised it, pumped all the environmental hazards off and then sunk it again,” Sutter added.

10 On Your Side’s tour of the Elizabeth River graveyard took us to the Alyssa from Chesapeake, which is actually anchored and floating. 

We climbed aboard to take a look. We were curious about what was in Alyssa’s cabin. The windows are all broken. We found a foot of water inside, along with personal possessions and nautical items.  

It should be noted it is illegal to abandon a vessel in a waterway.  

The Virginia Marina Resources Commision is primarily tasked with the responsibility for enforcement. 

10 On Your Side wanted to know why the VMRC doesn’t tow the Alyssa. We received this statement from Matthew Rogers, who is the chief of VMRC law enforcement.

“VMRC and Virginia Marine Police does not have the capability, resources or storage locations to safely tow vessels. Any derelict vessel that is reported to VMRC is investigated, as is in this case, to determine ownership and the appropriate legal action. Virginia Marine Police remains in an investigative role and does not tow, remove or dispose of derelict vessels.” 

Matthew Rogers, chief of VMRC law enforcement

Responses like that infuriate some residents in the Swimming Point Neighborhood in downtown Portsmouth, who have complained to the U.S. Coast Guard, VMRC, and Virginia Marine Police. Some say no one will accept responsibility for removing the vessels. 

“My message is for somebody to take responsibility for having the boats removed,” said resident Douglas Union.  

That brings us back to Del. Knight, who is taking the lead in committing $3 million in the state budget for the “removal of derelict boats from Virginia waterways.” 

“This is not a done deal, but I think we will get it funded,” Knight said.

During our conversation, Knight started thinking outside the box to increase the Virginia state boat registration fee.

“We could put it in the boat registration fee,” he said. 

That’s $25 to build on the $3 million. 

“That’s right. That is something we should look at. We should look at that,” Knight said with a laugh, adding “It just shows you, you can get ideas from anybody.” 

The Coast Guard sent this full statement to WAVY:

“The abandoned and derelict vessel issue is a complex one, and it is an issue in many communities across the country. ADVs may present a threat to safe navigation or the marine environment and often place an undue financial burden on agencies that must exert limited resources to respond.

“Under Virginia laws, it is unlawful for an owner to allow a vessel to be in a state of abandonment and in danger of sinking or such disrepair as to constitute a hazard or obstruction to the use of a waterway. The State is the best agency to speak on their laws or their process for removing derelict vessels.

“The Coast Guard appreciates the public concern. It is also a Coast Guard concern. We work to identify owners, coordinate with the State, and encourage quick salvage and recovery to minimize risk to the maritime community. No one wants to see them languish.

“The Coast Guard’s statutory role is the protection of the marine environment. We have a responsibility to identify and mitigate hazards to navigation and respond to and, in some cases, remove substantial pollution threats. In this context, we are talking about oil and hazardous substances specifically. Regarding the two vessels you’ve inquired about, the Alyssa and the Fantasy London, neither vessel presented a hazard to navigation. Additionally, the threat of pollution was either mitigated or removed.

“Additionally, while vessel salvage is not a Coast Guard mission, any plans or operations to remove the vessels require coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port and an accepted salvage plan. It may also require state permits. This may seem like a cumbersome process. However, these requirements ensure that any vessel removal does not make matters worse by creating a new hazard, actually obstructing a waterway, or worse, injuring persons or other property. Well-meaning community members seeking to expand local clean-up efforts must heed that it will require more than simply moving a vessel. Removing a vessel is different than removing smaller debris along a waterway.

“Virginia Abandoned and Derelict Vessels (VA-ADV) Work Group has been established to address the issue and is co-facilitated by:

“o Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University (CVW)

“o Virginia Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program under the Virginia Department of Equality

“VA-ADV participation includes Area Committee Members from state and local levels. The group’s priority is building a state-wide inventory across coastal waters and lakes and pilot initiatives to dispose of identified ADVs. The VA-ADV Workgroup is distributing flyers to marinas in Virginia to create awareness about this state-wide inventory of ADVs.

“The VA-ADV partnered with Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at William and Mary Law School and recently published a paper Abandoned and Derelict Vessels in the Commonwealth. Paper is a policy analysis of local and state laws on the current complexities.
http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/ADV.html

“More information is also available through the NOAA Marine Debris program.
https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/abandoned-and-derelict-vessels-info-hub/virginia

Sara Muir, SCPO, U.S. Coast Guard Fifth District