Murkowski Urges Federal Action on Abandoned and Derelict Vessel Danger in Alaska

Senator, Colleagues Send Letter to Federal Government Seeking Answers, Follow Through for Rural Alaska Safety Hazard

Senator Lisa Murkowski joined 21 members of Congress in reaching out to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), seeking answers and follow through from the federal government to address the national concern of abandoned and derelict vessels.

Scattered in many coastal or riverfront locations across Alaska, these ships pose serious navigational challenges by obstructing boat traffic flow and creating potential environmental risks if remaining fuel on board were to leak into the water.  In rural Alaskan communities, abandoned and derelict vessels also create dangerous hazards for snowmachiners when rivers are frozen over.

Over twenty years ago, the GAO conducted a study of the national problem posed by abandoned vessels; it confirmed the local threats posed by them – yet little action and follow through has taken place based off this report.  In a letter (attached) to the GAO, Senator Murkowski and her colleagues stressed the risks posed by these vessels, writing:

Derelict vessels block waterways impacting marine transportation and some have also become major sources of pollution.  The last time the GAO reviewed abandoned and derelict vessel policies was in 1992 (GAO/RCED-92-235).  At the time, GAO found that these vessels posed a significant threat to the environment and coastal economies.  The report made federal policy recommendations to both Congress and the Coast Guard to highlight this issue and proposed preventive solutions.  Yet some twenty years later, derelict vessels continue to impact our economies, and our environment. 

The letter closes with a series of questions and calls to action, including:

To what extent does the Coast Guard or other Federal or state agencies maintain data on derelict and abandoned vessels including: vessel tracking information; previous owner penalties; previous state, federal and territorial enforcement actions; fines; and/or penalties levied on those owners?

To what extent do federal, state, tribal and territorial governments, ports and small harbors collectively or collaboratively track abandoned, derelict or problem vessels?

The authors also ask for:

An analysis of existing derelict and abandoned vessel state and federal laws, response and management programs including the identification of best practices.