Coast Guard to Demolish Florida Fishing Vessel

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla.- The Coast Guard is scheduled to remove and demolish a fishing vessel that poses an environmental hazard in the Caloosatchee River, in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday at 8 a.m.

The 66-foot, wooden-hulled fishing vessel Challenger was discovered by crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach partially sunk and leaking oil in an area near Jack’s Marine, in Ft. Myers, in May 2006. Two structural breaches in the vessel’s hull were discovered and repaired. Approximately 5,100 gallons of oil water were recovered and properly disposed of.

Edward Zak, a resident of Bexley, Ohio, purchased the vessel from an online auction for $1 on March 2, 2007.

Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg’s Response Department, in St. Petersburg, Fla., launched an investigation of the vessel March 16, 2007, after the vessel was found anchored and vacant along the Caloosahatchee River with substantial amounts of oil-water mixtures on board. Approximately 250 gallons of the mixture were recovered; however, a substantial amount still remains on board Challenger; in the unreachable engine compartment and in the oil-impregnated decks and hull.

On March 21, The Challenger was discovered adrift from its anchorage and run aground in its current location, posing a hazard to navigation. Crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach were able to push the vessel against the shoreline and secure it.

April 2, the Challenger was discovered turned over on its starboard side with an oil sheen surrounding the vessel. The Coast Guard deployed two layers of boom around the vessel to contain the discharge.

Zak has been issued several notices by the U.S. Coast Guard about the status of his vessel and has taken no action to resolve the issues.

Given the past structural repair history of the vessel, the upcoming hurricane season, and the potential for the damaged vessel to pollute the river and its environmentally sensitive areas, the U.S. Coast Guard, in coordination with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Lee County, is taking action to mitigate the threat of further pollution.

The Challenger is located in an environmentally sensitive area that includes wading birds, manatees, bald eagles, mangroves and salt marshes which could be affected by any oil spill from the vessel.

The Challenger will be taken to a Lee County-approved dump site for destruction and disposal. This allows for the safe removal of the substantial amounts of residual pollutants within the vessel.

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