​Commercial Abandoned and Derelict Vessels​

Abandoned and Sunken Vessels

The following information is from the Proceedings of the Workshop of State-Level Responses to Abandoned and Derelict Vessels September 15-17, 2009 

ADVs are consistently identified as problematic to state coastal managers, negatively impacting marine waterways and communities. While seaworthy vessels provide many services such as recreation and commerce, ADVs have numerous deleterious impacts—threat of oil or other pollutant spills, impediments to navigation, physical destruction of habitat, use as clandestine dump sites, nutrient enrichment, tourism reduction, and human health and safety hazards, to name a few. Storm events can move or break up vessels, spreading the damage over a greater area and often increasing the cost of addressing them. Responsible ownership, maintenance, and operation are the norm for the boating community, but once a vessel becomes abandoned or derelict actions to mitigate the aforementioned potential impacts are necessary.  

Part of the challenge in appropriately responding to ADVs is the sheer number of variables (e.g., ownership, jurisdiction, liability, appropriate legislation or regulations) possible per individual case. Some scenarios, such as if a vessel is leaking oil or if a vessel is located in a federally maintained navigation channel, are relatively clear in terms of responsibly and action required. However, there are significantly more scenarios with an unknown path to resolution. Who is responsible for responding to a derelict vessel not leaking oil or in a federally maintained navigation channel? What if a vessel owner cannot be identified? Who pays for removal and disposal? What if the vessel breaks apart, with a portion on land and a portion still in the water? Are there response differences between commercial and recreational vessels? A robust state ADV program, working in coordination with marinas, boat owners, nongovernmental organizations, and Federal and other state agencies, can help overcome these challenges.  

During 2008 and 2009, media coverage of ADVs was substantial. Many stories cited the economic downturn in the United States as a contributing factor to an increase in the number of ADVs. The Abandoned and Derelict Vessel Workshop was designed in response to both this observation and the many requests the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program 

(MDP) receives regarding ADVs in state waters. While awareness of the issue has been raised nationally, solutions and new ways of addressing ADVs have not been clearly articulated and adopted.  

The workshop to address abandoned and derelict vessels was held September 14-17, 2009, in Miami, Florida, with the intention of bringing together Federal agency representatives and state coastal managers to facilitate discussion on ADVs and share challenges and successful practices. The workshop objectives were to: 

  • Share information on NOAA and other select Federal agencies’ ADV interests and resources.
  • Enhance communication between states that have ADV programs and those looking to build them.

Prior to the workshop, given the wide variety of expertise and experiences of participants, a questionnaire was distributed with each attendee’s registration confirmation. Participants were asked to respond to two questions intended to guide the workshop discussion of ADV program components and challenges and provide a baseline of state-level involvement in the topic. The questions were: 

  • ​What are the two largest issues you face in terms of abandoned and derelict vessels? Please explain.
  • What do you want to learn and what do you hope to take away by participating in the workshop?​

​Responses to the first question included challenges in identifying funding sources (70%), determining vessel ownership (30%), knowing the number of ADVs impacting the state (20%), and understanding Federal authorities (20%). Responses to the second question included an interest in strategies from states with an ADV program (65%), identifying funding sources (40%), increasing knowledge of relevant ADV legislation (20%), and strengthening state and Federal agency partnerships (20%).  

Building upon these responses to initiate discussion, the workshop was designed to allow Federal agencies to share information with state representatives on their mandates and authorities, and for states that have adopted ADV abatement programs to share information about their successes and challenges. The workshop was additionally designed to go beyond simply sharing information in order to establish a network of individuals committed to learning from one another and working together. Articulating the roles of the Federal agencies present and the lessons learned from existing state ADV programs provided tools and suggestions for other state managers without a formal ADV program to emulate and apply in their own region. 

Components of a Comprehensive ADV Program  

Steps to build a comprehensive ADV program may include planning for program administration, enacting legislation, identifying funding sources, creating an ADV inventory, planning for the removal and disposal of ADVs, clarifying enforcement authority and abilities (directly or through other state agencies), developing prevention strategies, conducting outreach campaigns, and. It should be noted that successful ADV programs can exist without some, or even many, of these components. The following list is intended to serve as a guide for state managers developing an ADV program; it contains all of the components identified by the workshop participants.  

  • Program Administration: Identify the needed infrastructure for a successful program; develop a vision and strategy. Outlining what the state’s ADV program would look like from discovery to disposal is recommended, as is considering general program administration requirements.
  • Legislation: Know the relevant legislation; pursue appropriate state legislation to formalize an ADV program. Know state statutes and key definitions (the Sea Grant Law Center State Abandoned Vessel Laws document is one tool) and investigate the state’s political climate as it relates to addressing ADVs and developing a state program to conduct the work.
  • Funding: Understand applicable funding sources and the true cost of all components of a program; strive for self-sustaining funding. Funding, along with removal and disposal, was identified as a critical component of any state ADV program and requires strategic consideration and incorporation.
  • Inventory: Create an ADV inventory to capture and track key information. Knowing the magnitude of ADV challenges is critical to being able to propose appropriate solutions; an inventory need not be complicated or expensive. An inventory should include location, number, and accumulation rate of ADVs.
  • Removal: Weigh options for removal methods, which vary in cost, success, and ecological damage; understand those methods that will work best by vessel type and geographic location. Removal, along with funding and disposal, was identified as a critical component of any state ADV program, and requires strategic consideration and incorporation.
  • Disposal: Proper disposal can be accomplished through several different means, each varying in cost and environmental impact. Disposal, along with funding and removal, was identified as a critical component of any state ADV program, and requires strategic consideration and incorporation.
  • Enforcement: Active enforcement programs may deter irresponsible vessel ownership. Cooperation is needed with enforcement officers to reduce existing numbers of ADVs, potentially recover costs for removal and disposal, and reduce the number of ADVs intentionally created. 
  • Prevention: Avoiding, to the greatest extent possible, vessels becoming abandoned and derelict can save money and prevent the natural resource and navigation threats and should be the goal of any ADV program. Some ADVs are created intentionally and others are the result of storms or other indirect causes. Consider how laws, training, and outreach can be implemented to reach the most appropriate audiences and prevent ADV introduction.
  • Outreach: Engage necessary and interested constituents and partners to address ADVs An effective outreach campaign need not be expensive or time-consuming, particularly with the explosion of social media outlets. Increasing awareness of the challenges may reveal unknown solutions. Develop, strengthen, or reinvigorate a working relationship with relevant Federal and state agencies. Determine what other state agencies have an interest, responsibility, or are impacted by ADVs.​ Explore partnerships with enforcement agencies targeted toward ADV issues.​

US Government Accountability Office, March 2017, Federal and State Actions, Expenditures, and Challenges to Addressing Abandoned and Derelict Vessels https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-17-202.pdf​

Figure 2: Circumstances in which Federal Agencies Generally Respond to Abandoned and Derelict Vessel (ADV)-related Incidents in U.S. Waterways as Federal On-Scene Coordinators or Fund ADV-removal

Hazard Navigation in a federally maintained waterway

  • U.S Army Corps of Engineers removes vessel

Environmental or Public Health Threat

  • Coastal: U.S. Coast Guard removes pollution threat from vessel
  • Inland: Environmental Protection Agency removed pollution threat from vessel

Presidentially declared disaster

(Non-federally maintained navigable waterway and not under the specific authority of another federal agency) Federal Emergency Management Agency,) 

  • Funds removal of debris created by disaster


State or local government may take responsibility of the vessel

  • State, local, and Tribal governments, and other organizations, may apply to the National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a grant to restore the marine habitat by removing debris, such as ADVs​

Note: The vessel owner, lessee, or operator (responsible party) has primary responsibility for removal of the hazard to navigation or cleanup of an oil or hazardous material discharge or release. If the responsible party fails to take action or cannot be identified, the appropriate agency may proceed with removal of the hazard.​

SB 1065 (Eggman) One-Page Fact Sheet​