Abandoned vessels ranging in size from 10 to over 200 feet currently are in the coastal wetlands across the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast. In areas of heavy use by commercial and recreational boaters, the derelicts are hazardous to navigation and detrimental to the wetland environment.
State law exists to resolve the problem. According to state law, DMR "...may remove from the coastal wetlands or from any private or manmade canal with navigable connection to coastal wetlands, as defined in 49-27-5(A), Mississippi Code of 1972, any vessel which is derelict, having been relinquished, deserted or left by the owner with the intention of abandoning the vessel. Any vessel submerged in or on the coastal wetlands in excess of ninety (90) days is hereby declared abandoned and a derelict vessel."
Beginning 1 July 2002, DMR, through amended legislation, will be authorized to remove any vessel which has been determined to be a public safety or environmental hazard. In addition, as of 1 July 2002, a vessel may be determined as derelict if it has been submerged or abandoned in or on coastal wetlands in excess of 30 days, reducing the waiting period by 60 days.
Before Tidelands Trust Funds became available, no vessels were removed because the financial burden was on the local governments. DMR now has the legislative mandate and funds to clean up our coastal wetlands and navigable waterways. As commercial shrimping, oystering and crabbing grows and the population of boaters increases, the number of derelict vessels also increases. As of December 2004, 137 derelict vessels of known and unknown ownership have been removed since the program began in May of 1998.
The last known owner or operator of a derelict vessel is liable under state law to remove the derelict and restore the affected coastal wetlands within 30 days of the date of the notice from DMR. Failure to remove the vessel may result in a fine of up to $500 per day, at the discretion of a judge. The Chancery Court has awarded judgments against known owners who fail to remove their derelict vessels.
Under the current statute, DMR may remove derelict vessels of unknown ownership, if funding exists. A large percentage of the derelict vessels along the coast are of unknown ownership. With Tideland Trust Funds, DMR has begun the process of prioritizing and removing the vessels that are a hazard to navigation and the environment of the Gulf Coast.