At a recent presentation to Marco’s Waterways Advisory Committee on derelict vessels, FWC Officer Kyle Plussa made this statement, “you can have a beautiful 100’ motor yacht without a motor and without controls that makes it a derelict vessel, and you can have an unsightly rust–covered wooden vessel that isn’t.”
Officer Kyle Plussa has been a certified officer since 2011, and with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) since 2015, and here in Collier County since 2017. He is a state subject matter expert in Derelict vessel investigations. He has conducted 401 criminal investigations in the last 5 years, 291 of those being marine investigations of derelict vessels and related boating crimes. He is also a court-recognized subject matter expert in boating and waterways law here in the 20th Judicial Circuit and in the Collier County Court.
FWC Officer Kyle Plussa’s presentation to the Waterways Advisory Committee included success stories related to Derelict vessels and their removal from Marco River and Factory Bay.
“Xanadu” is a sailing vessel that had sunk and remained derelict in Factory Bay in Marco Island. The removal was owner funded. It was a product of a lengthy criminal investigation that had expanded to as far as Atlanta, Georgia.
What Is A Derelict Vessel?
According to FS 823.11: A Derelict Vessel is a vessel that is left, stored OR abandoned in a wrecked, junked, OR “substantially dismantled” condition on waters of the state.
Substantially dismantled is interpreted as any of the TWO of the following:
- Missing or inoperable steerage.
- Missing or inoperable propulsion.
- Compromised structural (hull) integrity.
A Derelict Vessel is a 1st–degree misdemeanor criminal law violation discovered through an investigation resulting in a physical arrest or an arrest by notice to appear when located by law enforcement. It can result in a $1000 fine and up to 1 year in jail. According to Officer Plussa, courts do not impose incarceration for these and other non-public safety crimes, but it is an option left to the court’s discretion.
“Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area” Derelict vessel was a sailing vessel that had been beached at Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area, as the owner admitted to law enforcement his intention to illegally sink it offshore as an unlawful and unpermitted artificial reef. This was a joint investigative effort with FWC Officer Kyle Plussa and Marco Island Marine Police Officers Josh Ferris, Bob Marvin and SGT Brian Hood. The owner was arrested for multiple criminal charges including derelict vessel, related to the unpermitted artificial reef making materials on state waters, as well as multiple natural resource crimes relating to harassment of three species of threatened nesting shorebirds. The derelict vessel was subsequently removed per a court order plea agreement without the use of state’s taxpayer dollars.
“Tychee” is a Derelict sailing vessel sunk in Factory Bay in Marco Island and the vessel is in queue for removal via state process. According to Officer Plussa, these investigations are very complex and time–consuming.
“At Risk vessels” may not occupy the waters of Florida. A vessel may be determined to be “at risk” of derelict if any of the following conditions exist:
- Vessel is taking on or has taken on water without an effective means to dewater.
- Spaces on the vessel that are designed to be enclosed are incapable of being sealed off or remain open to the elements for extended periods of time.
- The vessel has broken loose or is in danger of breaking loose from its anchor.
- The vessel is left or stored aground unattended in such a state that would prevent the vessel from getting underway; is listing due to water intrusion; or is sunk or partially sunk.
- The vessel does not have an effective means of propulsion for safe navigation after being noticed by law enforcement.
At Risk vessels is a non-criminal law infraction violation that results in citations with compounding penalties of $73, $123 and $273 fines in Collier County with the statutory fines and court costs.