Hurricane Irma pushed these private boats into Navy waters. Now they must go

Owners can act to reclaim vessels but delay could be the boats will be destroyed.

A fleet of 81 privately owned boats wound up in the U.S. Navy’s back yard after Hurricane Irma, and now they must go.

A barge contracted to move boats that were pushed within 100 yards of Naval Air Station Key West jurisdiction has picked up 41 boats and taken them to Truman Annex for return to their owners or eventual destruction. The rest of the wayward boats will be moved in the coming days.

“There’s a little bit of everything, a real mish-mash,” Trice Denny, public-affairs officer for the naval station, said Tuesday.

“A lot of sailboats, a big boat somebody was living aboard, and two boats that are completely submerged,” she said.

Denny said the owners of 67 boats have been identified and alerted through certified mail to either make arrangements within 45 days to remove the vessels from the Truman Annex staging area or surrender them for disposal.

“They came from all over, from the city mooring field and a lot were on the west side of Fleming Key,” Denny said.

“We’re trying to prevent any further damage to the environment. We don’t want them to keep leaking,” Trice said. “We also need to be able to use the ramp where some of these wound up. The boats will be put on jack stands in a safe place where people won’t be climbing on them.”

The “displaced vessel” program coordinates efforts by the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Emergency Support Function group and state marine officers.

Owners who plan to repair their boats will not be allowed to work on Navy base property, she noted. Those who want to refloat their vessels from the base will need to have a survey performed, followed by a U.S. Coast Guard inspection.

“If the Coast Guard doesn’t approve it, the boat won’t go back in the water,” Denny said. “There a lot of steps, and I suspect a lot of these boats are no longer seaworthy.”

The removal plan was designed after Hurricane Wilma scattered boats throughout Lower Keys waters.

“Now things are moving pretty quick, and we probably have more boats than in [Hurricane] Wilma,” Denny said.

“We know a lot of boat owners want to get their boats so the faster they act, there’s a better chance that the boat will be salvageable,” she said.

Boats not claimed or surrendered within the 45-day period will be taken for disposal at a site near Jacksonville.

Officials have estimated that more than 1,000 boats were damaged or moved by Hurricane Irma.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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