Governor Inslee tightens rules on derelict vessels

Legislation that bolsters the state’s derelict vessel rules was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee Monday.

Legislation that bolsters the state’s derelict vessel rules was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee Monday.

Designed in the wake of the sinking of the Deep Sea in Penn Cove last year — an event that shut down shellfish harvesting for a month and cost taxpayers $5.4 million — the statutes are a grab-bag of small measures that are hoped to reduce the likelihood of future events.

“This bill helps get us on the right track to improving the conditions of our state’s waterways,” said Inslee, in a release from the Governor’s Office. “Derelict vessels pose a very serious threat to the environment and to our state’s economic wellbeing.”

The new statutes make temporary funding for the Department of Ecology’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program permanent and give regulators the authority to board and inspect abandoned or derelict vessels before they sink.

They also decriminalize registration violations from a misdemeanor crime to a civil infraction — the idea is to make enforcement and fine collection more realistic for law enforcement — and increase owner accountability requirement for vessels more than 65 feet long and more than 40 years old.

In the governor’s news release, Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands and head of the state Department of Natural Resources, called the legislation a “great step toward preventing the problems that derelict vessels cause across the state.”

“DNR is committed to seeking further innovative solutions to increase owner accountability, prevent pollution in Puget Sound, and address the obstacles to removing and dismantling these vessels,” Goldmark said. “I appreciate the tremendous support of this bill from legislators on both sides of the aisle, diverse stakeholder groups, and Governor Inslee.”

One of the legislation’s champions was Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. She said the “collaborative” effort resulted in new rules that provide a “holistic approach with greater accountability.”

She added that efforts will continue this summer with stakeholders to “improve the opportunities for deconstruction and recycling of vessels, and strengthen prevention strategies.”

Also, in an interview last month, Smith said additional legislation may come forward next year.

“Derelict vessels pose a serious threat to Puget Sound and the coastlines of Washington state,” Smith said. “The crisis we experienced at Penn Cove last year with the sinking of a derelict vessel highlights what’s at stake.”