Town of Palm Beach News

Abandoned Boat Begins to Break Apart

A boat abandoned and beached just north of Mar-a-Lago has begun breaking apart in the rough surf, exposing gas and oil tanks that some residents worry will contaminate the beach and ocean, as first reported by the Palm Beach Daily News.

Pinpointing whose responsibility removing the abandoned boat and ensuring it does not harm the environment is has proven challenging. 

“I think it’s up to the local authorities to clean this thing up,” Palm Beach resident Jim Speyer said Wednesday. “It’s an environmental mess – the gasoline going into the ocean.”

The boat first washed up late on Jan. 23. A few days after the boat appeared in Palm Beach, the U.S. Coast Guard disclosed that, on Jan, 20, it had rescued 31 Haitians from the 32-foot fiberglass vessel after discovering it adrift 9 miles north of Bimini, Bahamas. At the time the Coast Guard was unable to save the boat due to rough waters. As a result, the boat, originally named Summer Smart, continued to drift freely until it washed up on the beach in front of the president’s Mar-a-Lago home.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has maintained since January that the registered owner of the boat is responsible for removal.

The registered owner is 43-year-old Jose Rembrandt Silva Buitrago of Miami, and although he has been cited by the FWC on a misdemeanor “derelict vessel” charge, he is fighting it. 

Abandoned Boat Begins to Break Apart

According to the FWC, town officials have the authority to remove the boat, and after doing so could apply for a FWC grant to cover the cost. However, grant application and distribution is a six month process and reimbursement is not guaranteed. 

The U.S. Coast Guard could also remove the boat, but since filing an initial report of the stranding has washed its hands of the situation. Brandon Murray, petty officer third class of the U.S. Coast Guard, said that responsibility for removal should fall to local law enforcement. 

Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management has the authority and capability to remove the boat, but not the money.

“We have funds to remove about four or five vessels per year,” said Carman Vare, environmental program supervisor at Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management. “We don’t have the sole responsibility for every derelict vessel in the county.”

Vare said Wednesday that he was unaware the boat was falling apart and thought the U.S. Coast Guard was “handling” the situation. After learning about the boat’s condition Care contacted the Coast Guard and was assured that someone would be out soon to reinspect the boat.

“They’re in front now, and they need to do something with it,” Vare said of the Coast Guard. “The most important order of business is to make sure this thing doesn’t leak fuel.”

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Meanwhile, Anthony Cirra, a 21-year-old from West Palm Beach took it upon himself to clean up the boat after noticing it on Tuesday while retiring from his offshore job as an underwater welder. 

“It reeked of gas,” Cirra said. “Why would they let it sit here?”

Cirra said he spent eight hours Tuesday disconnecting and removing electronics and trying to prevent the oil and gas tanks from leaking onto the beach.

“I love marine wildlife and the last thing I want to see after all this red tide is a dolphin or a fish washed up on shore from gasoline and battery acid or things of that sort,” he said.

Last Tuesday Cirra received a written warning for trespassing on Mar-a-Lago property from Palm Beach police.

The boat now sits on public land about two buildings north of Mar-a-Lago.

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Alanna Barrett

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