Surely there are better ways for the CNMI to spend its grant funding rather than using it to clean up wreckage from abandoned vessels. So what are we doing to cure the disease (derelict and abandoned vessels) rather than continue to bandage the ailment (removing grounded vessels)? Well, CRM, DLNR, DFW, DPS, and the Attorney General’s Office have been brainstorming. They have tossed around some ideas for a viable solution to the problem. These include the creation and implementation of some new boating and marina safety policies and further training for our boat inspectors.
This is a good start. However, without community understanding of the costs and adverse impacts that these vessels have on the CNMI economy and our living marine resources, compliance with any new policies will be virtually unattainable and vessel groundings will continue to occur. Therefore, CRM will host a series of public forums to discuss the potential actions already considered and seek other solutions from within the community.
Potential actions include using a sliding scale for annual boat licensing fees, where boats in poor repair would be charged a higher renewal fee than well maintained boats, to encourage responsible ownership. Another would be to have owners demonstrate their boat’s seaworthiness by sailing it a specified distance under its own power as part of the annual licensing inspection. A portion of the collected license fee would be used to cover the inspection and enforcement costs of DPS boating safety officers. The agencies are also considering requiring insurance for CNMI-flagged vessels using a slip or moorage, requiring foreign-flagged vessels to wait one year before applying for CNMI licensure, and creating a Vessel Emergency Response Fund. Once a Fund is established, a portion of the boat license fee would be used to sustain it. The Fund would pay for removal of vessels at risk before they sink or ground. Vessel owners would then be charged the incurred costs to replenish the fund.
In order to enhance local knowledge about boat maintenance, a 5-day US Coast Guard Compliant Vessel Inspection Training is going to be offered next year for DPS boating safety, CRM, DEQ, and DFW enforcement staff. Officers will learn to identify boats at risk, know when to require their repair or removal, and how to effectively encourage boat maintenance on the part of owners. After training, officers will be more confident and better equipped to enforce marina and boating safety policies.
Together these actions with the support of the community may be the beginning of the end of derelict and abandoned vessels in the CNMI.