In 2010, Hurricane Earl wrecked several abandoned ships in Baughers Bay and elsewhere, leaving a costly mess to be cleaned up at taxpayers’ expense.
If the territory had learned its lesson at the time, it would be in much better shape today.
Shortly after Earl, legislators promised to quickly pass a new Disaster Management Act designed in part to help the government deal with derelict vessels.
But despite tabling the bill repeatedly since then, they still haven’t passed it.
Now an old problem has been multiplied several-fold by Hurricane Irma: Five months after the storm, hundreds of wrecked boats still litter the shorelines and waterways, and in some cases the owners are nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, government’s hands are largely tied by the clunky legislative regime currently in place.
It is extremely unfortunate that some owners are unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for their boats, but it is not particularly surprising, and no amount of castigation is likely to change their ways.
The House of Assembly, then, should pass the new Disaster Management Act as soon as possible. Among many other needed provisions, leaders have said, the law would clarify the rules governing derelict boats and give the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry more power to remove them.
We’re not sure what has caused the delay until now, though legislators have complained in the past about provisions in the act that would transfer power from them to the Department of Disaster Management.
If that’s their only concern, they should get past it. The law, which was tabled again last year, is a comprehensive piece of legislation that is important for many reasons.
Leaders should also review other rules regulating boat ownership in the territory. For example, shouldn’t all vessels operating here be required to carry insurance, like automobiles?
In the absence of such a requirement, there is precious little to stop boat owners from abandoning their uninsured wrecks to be cleaned up at public expense.
Given the strength of Irma, nothing could have prevented widespread boat damage around the territory. But tighter regulations could have made an enormous difference in facilitating the ongoing cleanup process.