Federal, commonwealth, industry partners announce final stage of Hurricane Maria vessel recovery operations

Members of the Hurricane Maria ESF-10 response team transition impacted vessels from a barge to be transported for disposal at Port of Ponce, Puerto Rico, Jan. 26, 2018. The team was comprised of members of the Coast Guard and local salvage crews, working in the ESF-10 effort to remove the boats that were stranded in the hurricane. The ESF-10 is offering no-cost options for removing these vessels; affected boat owners are asked to call the Vessel Owner Outreach Hotline at (786) 521-3900. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis)

Members of the Hurricane Maria ESF-10 response team transition impacted vessels from a barge to be transported for disposal at Port of Ponce, Puerto Rico. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lara Davis)

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico – The Emergency Support Function-10 Unified Command comprised of federal, commonwealth, and maritime industry partners announced Sunday the final stage of operations to mitigate the environmental threats and remove vessels sunk or stranded by Hurricane Maria.

“Our interagency response team is working tirelessly to complete our mission of removing pollutants and vessels that were affected by the storm,” said Captain Eric King, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “Our priority is to safeguard the marine environment and return to the island’s citizens and visitors the pristine coasts and beaches of Puerto Rico.”

“In September and October, Captain King and I announced the status of work and missions to open port operations on the island, as well as the mission to remove pollutants and wrecked vessels following Hurricane Maria,” said Jenniffer González Colón, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico. “Following an outreach campaign and the rapid response from citizens, today we can say that because of the work accomplished in collaboration with the Coast Guard, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and our office working with the allocation of funds, the mission is close to successful culmination. The success of this mission benefits the environment, fishermen, small businesses, and the tourism sector. The staff of ESF-10 managed, during this emergency response, to protect one of our island’s greatest attributes, our natural resources (beaches, mangroves, manatees, reefs) of what could have been an environmental disaster from of hundreds of sunken vessels and contaminants.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assigned $35 million for the ESF-10 mission as part of Puerto Rico hurricane recovery efforts. To address environmental threats resulting from storm-impacted vessels, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established a unified incident command post in the municipality of Carolina on Sept. 27, 2017.

To date, ESF-10 response teams have completed the following in their effort to reduce the potential impact to Puerto Rico’s marine environment:

  • Assessed 377 total sunken or beached vessels
  • 376 vessels mitigated and/or removed from the environment; a single vessel is pending for mitigation of pollutants
  • Contacted 96 percent of identified vessel owners
  • Mitigated 37 pollution incidents
  • Removed approximately 25,000 gallons of oily water
  • Disposed over 2 million pounds of solid vessel waste material

“This mission is one with no precedents,” said Tania Vázquez Rivera, Secretary of DNER for Puerto Rico. “With it, we have been able to clean our coasts from derelict and sunken vessels in a way not seen in decades. We have protected our coral reefs, our seagrasses, our mangroves. We have aided the local economy, the tourism and fisheries industries, and enhanced our beautiful landscape. We feel proud that this mission, requested by DNER, has successfully protected and supported the conservation of the habitat of many marine organisms and prevented future damages to marine ecosystems.” Initially, ESF-10 teams evaluated and cleaned up spills and hazardous materials in the marine environment and identified recreational vessels sunken, grounded, or stranded ashore. Once identified, teams focused on reducing the threat of pollution caused by impacted vessels, and working with the vessel owners to remove pollutants and either return vessels to the owners or remove vessels posing environmental threats from the marine environment.

One of the principle objectives of the mission was to dispel concerns and clearly communicate that impacted vessels and associated pollutants caused by Hurricane Maria would be removed at no cost or penalty to the vessel owners.

For photos and video of the Hurricane Maria response, please visit our Hurricane Maria Flickr page.

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