Environment

Is the fishing boat stuck on the rocks near Cayucos going to stay there forever?

Boat remains stuck on rocks near Cayucos — and no one knows when it will be removed

The Point Estero, a fishing vessel out of Morro Bay, crashed into rocks on its way back to Morro Bay Harbor from a fishing excursion on July 28, 2017. Because of jurisdictional issues among San Luis Obispo County, the state of California and the f
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The Point Estero, a fishing vessel out of Morro Bay, crashed into rocks on its way back to Morro Bay Harbor from a fishing excursion on July 28, 2017. Because of jurisdictional issues among San Luis Obispo County, the state of California and the f

A Morro Bay commercial fishing boat has been stuck on coastal rocks off the northern coast of Cayucos for more than two months, mired in a jurisdictional limbo as officials from state, federal and county agencies figure out how to remove it — and who’s going pay for it.

It may stay there a while.

The Point Estero ran aground on July 28 while returning to the Morro Bay Harbor from about 40 miles offshore, where the operator was fishing for slime eels, the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol previously told The Tribune.

Officials believe the boat ran upon the rocks near the southern tip of Estero Bluffs State Park due to operator error, based on the weather at the time. No one was hurt in the incident, and U.S. Coast Guard and State Parks personnel cleared the vessel of all hazardous materials and pollutants in July.

The owner, whom The Tribune has not been able to identify, has relinquished possession of the boat, according to the state, and a private salvage company estimated it will cost $175,000 to remove and tow back to the Morro Bay Harbor.

But the State Lands Commission, which is responsible for the land where the boat came to rest and has a program for removing abandoned vessels, lacks any funding to actually remove them, a spokesman for the agency said, and the question remains who will be willing to pick up the tab.

“To the best I’m able to determine, this is on state lands property,” Peter Pelkofer, senior counsel to the State Lands Commission, said Monday. “As to who removes it, the (State Lands Commission) does have authority, but the Legislature — in its wisdom — has not provided funding for us to remove these vessels. … We do not have the money.”

He said an estimate by private company Global Diving and Salvage to remove the boat and tow it back to Morro Bay came to about $175,000.

“That may or may not be excessive,” Pelkofer said. “As of this present moment, it is where it is.”

Brian Huber, dive operations manager for Global Diving & Salvage, said Monday that his crew assessed the vessel on July 31 and that when the materials on board were removed, the company was ready to tow it.

As of this present moment, it is where it is.

Peter Pelkofer, State Lands Commission senior counsel

A commercial fishing vessel ran aground near Cayucos on Friday, July 28, 2017. The U.S. Coast Guard removed hazardous materials from the boat, but as of Aug. 2, the fate of the boat was up in the air.

“That’s when the dispute came up between two parties,” Huber said. “The quicker you go, the more successful you are, and we were adamant that any delay could be detrimental (to the structure of the boat). ... Who knows how much damage has been done to it now?”

Within two days of the boat running aground, personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, California State Parks and U.S. Fish & Wildlife boarded it and removed all hazardous material, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney. Among the items removed were 91 gallons of oil and a 2-1/2-cubic-yard bin of contaminated material, as well as other miscellaneous gear and property.

Barney said Monday that the Coast Guard does not salvage abandoned vessels found on land, or those semi-grounded on coastal rocks.

“We don’t do salvage operations. Our primary concern is the safety of navigable waters,” Barney said. “We are aware of (the boat), but it seems like there is a jurisdictional issue.”

Pelkofer said it’s his understanding that the owner of the boat has relinquished possession and it’s now considered an abandoned vessel.

Unless someone — and I have no idea who — acquires the funding, it’s gonna stay there until it breaks up and returns to the sea.

Peter Pelkofer, State Lands Commission senior counsel

Though the Point Estero rests on state property, State Parks has no role in removing the vessel, either.

Dan Falat, State Parks San Luis Obispo coast district superintendent, said his staff monitors the vessel daily to ensure it’s not posing a safety risk.

Falat said that although the boat has spun slightly on the rocks, it appears intact, and he hasn’t received any reports of pieces breaking apart in the surf, people boarding the vessel or any illegal activity associated with it.

Falat added that he hasn’t heard any news about the boat in about a month.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t much State Parks can do,” Falat said.

Mark Hutchinson, deputy director of San Luis Obispo County Public Works, said Tuesday he’s not aware of any role the county is playing and did not know where the boat’s removal stood with the state and feds.

With no human activity contributing to the boat’s removal, Pelkofer says nature may ultimately cut the red tape.

“Unless someone — and I have no idea who — acquires the funding, it’s gonna stay there until it breaks up and returns to the sea,” he said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Brian Huber’s name.

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Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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