This is one of the derelict vessels that dragged anchor near 7 Mile Bridge. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

Two boats blown ashore near the gulfside of 7 Mile Bridge are examples of what the Florida Wildlife Commission calls “derelict vessel.”

The two boats blew onshore about two weeks ago and it will be weeks more before they are removed.

“We are conducting two criminal investigations right now,” said FWC Capt. David Dipre. “We are looking for the person who is responsible for the boat, or owns the boat. Then they will be criminally cited.”

Typically, Dipre said, even with a criminal judgment, it’s difficult to recoup costs. “Often, the boat owners have no financial resources. It’s like trying to get water from a rock.”

Once the owner is identified, there is a 35-day waiting period while officials attempt all means of communication. Then, either Monroe County or FWC will step in to get the removal process and eventual destruction of the vessel started. It can take up to 90 days for the derelict vessel to be removed. 

Dipre said in most cases the boats are abandoned and then drag anchor. In the case of the two boats near 7 Mile Bridge, the damage occurs to the boat, not the shoreline. There’s a greater danger of environmental damage if the boat sinks and fuel leaks into the ocean (in which case the Coast Guard gets involved) or the boat is tossed by a hurricane — colliding with another boat or even houses on shore. 

Dipre said the two boats had been anchored near the 7 Mile Bridge for months. 

“We see dinghies going back and forth and then one day you stop seeing the dinghies. That’s not a crime. Boat owners go out of town to visit friends, for example, but then they never return and the boat becomes derelict,” Dipre said. 

According to Dipre, there are about a dozen derelict vessels noted in Boot Key Harbor, the two near 7 Mile Bridge and several others in the Middle Keys that look derelict, or in danger of becoming so.

To report a possible derelict vessel or derelict vessel, call 888-404-3922 or email [email protected]

Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.