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Van Drew Measure To Impound Abandoned Boats Passes Senate

TRENTON – The State Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew that would allow local authorities to impound abandoned ships, boats and other watercraft.

“Since there is no current law against abandoning vessels in public waters or on public lands, we see many owners abandoning their boats when they no longer want them,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic. “Abandoned and sunken vessels are a growing problem for our coastal communities. These boats are not just an eyesore but cause pollution to the surrounding area and pose navigational hazards.”

Senator Van Drew’s bill, S-1390, would make several revisions to statutes concerning abandoned vessels and makes it easier for local authorities to remove those vessels.

Under the bill, current law would be amended to prohibit the abandonment of a vessel on any municipal waterway or upon any municipally owned land.

The owner of the vessel would be responsible for paying the costs of impounding, including raising, recovering, towing, removal, storage, destruction and disposal of the vessel. Additionally, the bill provides that the owner would be liable for a civil penalty of not more than $1000 for each day the violation continues.

“Up until now, there was no way for local authorities or the Coast Guard to recover the costs of removing an abandoned vessel, so often these boats are left alone unless they pose an environmental hazard. By holding owners accountable for recovering and towing their abandoned boats, we’ll make it financially viable for shore communities to remove these hazards,” added Senator Van Drew.

The bill would authorize a municipality or harbor commission to adopt an ordinance requiring that every vessel that moors or docks in a municipal waterway or is grounded on land under its control to register with the municipality or harbor commission. That registration would have to include the length of time the vessel is intended to remain at the location and contact information for the owner or operator of the vessel.

The bill would permit, after a vessel has been moored, grounded or docked in violation of its registration for one week, a notice to be affixed to the vessel advising that if it is not removed by a date indicated on the notice, that the vessel would be removed to a holding area. The vessel would not be permitted to be removed for at least seven days from the date of notice.

Additionally, a local municipality or harbor commission would be permitted to impound any vehicle that is docked for more than seven days with registering with local authorities. Any vessel partially or completely submerged could be impounded immediately.

The bill also allows any local authority which has impounded an abandoned vessel to seek the title for that vessel if the owner doesn’t retrieve it after 30 days. The bill would permit a municipality or harbor commission that applies for title to recover all costs incurred in receiving title to an abandoned vessel, storage and removal from the previous owner.

Finally, the bill would amend current law to direct an owner of a vessel to register with the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The MVC would be directed to not approve any application for a vessel number or new or renewed license if the applicant has not paid previous charges for vessel removal, storage and destruction costs. Additionally, the bill would authorize the court to revoke or suspend the license to operate a vessel if an individual has not paid all outstanding charges for vessel removal, storage and destruction costs.

The bill passed by a vote of 37-0 and now goes to the Assembly for their consideration.