More than 750 boats sunk or “displaced” by Hurricane Irma have been removed from Florida Keys waters as part of a combined state and federal operation.
“As of today, the count stands at 762 and the numbers continue to rise,” U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Lehmann said Tuesday, tallying up the recovered vessels from Key Largo to Key West.
“A lot of these numbers are increasing because more owners [in the Florida Keys] are coming in and agreeing to take responsibility for their vessels,” Lehmann said.
“That means we’re able to assess and document them at a much faster clip,” he said. “We appreciate the owners’ engagement; it helps us out immensely.”
The effort, called the Emergency Support Function 10 Florida Unified Command, is a joint operation of the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary “are contributing expertise and experience to the assessment and removal efforts,” says a statement from the command, better known as ESF-10.
Its primary focus is to reduce environmental damage from boats leaking gasoline or fuel and prevent accidents caused by sunken vessels that have become hazards to navigation. Boot Key Harbor in Marathon has been a very busy site in recent days.
Boat owners can agree to take responsibility for salvaging their boat or have the option of turning it over for removal and disposal.
The 87 people working in the Keys ESF-10 sector outnumber those in similar operations in Miami, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville combined.
“We are dedicated to seeing this through to the end,” Lehmann said. “There is no set deadline to finish. The job is done when it’s done.”
Boat owners can call the ESF-10’s Vessel Removal Hotline at (305) 985-3744.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206