Derelict Vessel Bill Passes

by Rachel Lord

On Wednesday, Alaska took a step closer to stronger laws and pro-active prevention of derelict vessels across the state. Passing both the Senate and the House, Senate Bill 92 is heading to Governor Walker’s desk for a signature.
SB92, the Derelict Vessel Act, overhauls Alaska’s outdated and ineffective laws on abandoned and derelict vessels. It clarifies and strengthens the process for dealing with derelict boats. It also takes significant steps to improve enforcement and increase the likelihood that a person will be held responsible when they attempt to walk away from an old boat on public waters.
There are hundreds of derelict vessels currently across coastal Alaska and throughout the large river systems. While the bill doesn’t bring significant financial resources to address this legacy problem, it does take great steps to curb the continued dumping of old boats on Alaska’s coast and rivers.
“With SB 92, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources will take a critically important step to streamline state efforts on derelict vessels with a focus on prevention,” said bill sponsor Senator Peter Micciche. “By starting to look at eventual cradle-to-grave solutions for old boats, the state and Alaska’s municipalities will reduce costly cleanups and encroachment of abandoned boats on public and private waters and lands.”
SB92 was crafted from the work of Alaska’s ad-hoc Derelict Vessel Task Force, sponsored in part by the Alaska Clean Harbors program and Cook Inletkeeper. The law firm of Birch Horton Bittner and Cherot provided pro bono legal assistance, with extensive experience in maritime law surrounding derelict vessels in Alaska.
Attorney Holly Wells responded to the passing of SB92, “The passage of this legislation provides the State and its municipal ports and harbors a fighting chance against Alaska’s aging fleet and the rapid increase in derelict and abandoned vessels along Alaska’s shores. The members of the Derelict Vessel Task Force, the Task Force’s facilitator Rachel Lord, the Alaska Harbormasters Association, and of course the sponsors of this bill should be very proud.”
“Anyone working on derelict vessel cases around Alaska knows how difficult it is to find an owner to legally hold liable under our current laws,” noted Rachel Lord, Executive Secretary of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators and the facilitator of the Derelict Vessel Task Force which crafted the language of the bill. Of SB92 Lord says, “In addition to re-writing the current derelict vessel laws in Alaska, SB92 will improve the tracking of vessel ownership through expanded registration requirements and the creation of a vessel title program for boats over 24 feet in length. Over time, this will be a huge help to municipalities and the State when managing our waterways for public use in navigation and moorage.”
Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil was pleased with the passing of the bill, “CBJ Docks & Harbors applauds the efforts of the Alaska Legislature to address abandoned and derelict vessels with common sense legislation. We believe titling and the mandatory registration of vessels posing a potential for environmental damage or expensive salvage operations are a necessary first step in protecting the financial interests of the Docks & Harbor enterprise funds.”
Bryan Hawkins, City of Homer Port and Harbor Director and AAHPA Vice President said, “The 43 port and harbor members of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters & Port Administrators were universal in their support of SB92 to address the growing challenges of abandoned and derelict vessels throughout the Alaska.”
Additional official support for SB92 came from the Alaska Municipal League, the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee, Orutsararmiut Native Council, and the communities of Ketchikan, Thorne Bay, Sitka, Juneau, Cordova, Seward, Homer, Dillingham, and Unalaska. The Association is most appreciative of Senator Micciche and Representative Seaton (sponsor of companion bill HB386) for their efforts and energy in advancing this important legislation.
The Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators is a 501(c)6 organization established in 1999 and dedicated to serving and promoting Alaska’s ports and harbors.
Rachel Lord is the Executive Secretary for the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators.