DMR files lawsuit to get abandoned boat removed

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A 72-foot commercial fishing boat, abandoned and stranded in the Mississippi Sound, is certainly stirring up a lot of curiosity.  But Charter Boat Captain Tom Becker says it's not the kind of attention south Mississippi needs.

"I think it's a big eyesore," said Tom Becker.  "The people, the tourists that come by ask me, 'What's the story with it?'  And they all say, 'Man, that's a bad omen. First thing you see coming into Biloxi is that boat sitting on the shore.'"

The "Tiger Shark" has been floating about 300 yards off shore since July of 2008. In recent months, the rusty vessel ended up beached just east of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor. The DMR says that poses a threat to human health and safety.

"We're very concerned about it being so close to shore and aground and possibly even going up onto the beach or onto Highway 90 should we have another storm," said Irvin Jackson. "We also worry about possibly people getting on the boat and hurting themselves in some manner."

Irvin Jackson is the Director of the Mississippi Derelict Vessel Removal Program.  He says he has received plenty of complaints about the shrimp boat, as well as a sunken sailboat nearby.

"But the problem is you just can't run out and remove a boat because people complain about it," said Jackson.  "We follow the statute that covers derelict vessel removal, and there's a legal process that you have to go through."

The DMR has already taken legal steps in hopes of getting the shrimp boat removed.  Last week, the agency filed a lawsuit in Harrison County Chancery Court against the owner - Rocky Lee Curtis. They also printed legal summons in the newspaper.  Jackson says the biggest problem is they can't find Curtis because he doesn't have a permanent address.

"We are trying to physically locate Mr. Curtis so we can personally serve him and possibly resolving the situation without going any further," said Jackson.  "I am more than anxious to get rid of this thing."

Jackson says the final step is for the DMR to ask a judge for permission to remove the boat. He's hoping that will happen sometime in June.

"I'm glad to see that," said Becker. "This summer, if we have a storm, I hate for the people across the street to have a new boat in their yard."

The DMR says it could cost between $25,000 and $40,000 to remove the shrimp boat.  The money will come from Tidelands Funds. The DMR can take either it to a scrap yard and dispose of the vessel, or tow it away, sink it, and use it as an artificial fishing reef.

As for the sail boat, the DMR found the owner this week.  And if he doesn't take steps to remove the boat himself, the DMR also plans to take the matter to court.  According to the DMR, getting a derelict vessel removed can take anywhere from six months to two years.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.