New law allows fast action for grounded vessels

HONOLULU — A new law signed by Gov. Linda Lingle authorizes the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to take steps for immediate removal of a vessel grounded on living coral reefs, a press release states.

In situations where the vessel is in imminent danger of breaking up, and in which the vessel owner or operator cannot remove it, Act 134 of Senate Bill 2360 will allow a state official to step in and assist in the removal of the vessel to a safer location, without liability to the state.

“The department has learned by sorry example that just one tidal cycle can drive a boat hard aground and compound both the cost and damages to the environment,” DLNR chairperson Peter Young states in the release. “Time is of the essence, and this law allows the state to expedite action to lessen those impacts.”

Young says boat owners often do not understand the ultimate consequences to the reefs.

There were five vessel groundings in state waters in the last four months of 2005, the release states.

Although the responsibility and cost of vessel removal belongs to the owner, the DLNR was faced with the task of making arrangements for removal of the wrecked vessels from the coastline in at least three of these instances.

In some instances, arrangements to remove the vessel could not be made until the owners were located and contacted by the state.

DLNR harbormasters compared their experiences with grounded vessels, worked on a draft bill, and then submitted it for action.

The boating community suggested broadening the bill to include a Good Samaritan clause that covers the public when they pitch in to help out, the release states.

In instances where the vessel owner or operator refuses to assume all financial responsibilities, the DLNR may take legal action to collect any costs or expenses incurred for any removal, the release states.

The law also clarifies that the operator of a vessel may also bear the cost of removal and environmental damage if the owner was deemed solely responsible for grounding a vessel on state submerged land, shorelines or living coral reefs.

The law provides immunity from liability for state official’s actions, and to any agent who assists at his or her direction, assures that there will be no hesitation in the rendering of aid to the grounded vessel, and that private parties with resources to assist in the removal will be willing to come forward and assist.

Vessel groundings on more benign structures, such as mud flats, sand bars or beaches, will be given a more moderate time frame for removal, unless the vessel is breaking up, which would require immediate action, the release states.

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