Coast Guard:

Abandoned Vessels Pollute Waterways and Cost Millions to Clean Up and Remove

RCED-92-235: Published: Jul 21, 1992. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 1992.

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GAO provided information on abandoned vessels in U.S. coastal and inland waterways, focusing on: (1) the number of vessels that have been abandoned nationwide; (2) the extent of environmental problems caused by abandoned vessels and the associated costs; and (3) the adequacy of federal laws and regulations dealing with abandoned vessels.

GAO found that: (1) estimates of the number of abandoned vessels on the East and Gulf coasts and eastern inland waterways range between 1,300 and 4,000; (2) according to Coast Guard officials, its lower estimate focuses only on vessels it considers to be a pollution threat; (3) since January 1988, the Coast Guard has investigated 96 incidents of potential water pollution, and estimated that $5.7 million was expended to clean up the vessels and the pollution from them; (4) the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that it spent $5.2 million to remove 282 abandoned vessels that posed a threat to navigational safety; (5) no federal laws specifically prohibit abandonment of vessels or require that barges be registered so that owners can be identified and held accountable; and (6) the federal government will likely continue to incur costs to remove abandoned vessels and clean up associated pollution.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Legislation in line with this GAO recommendation was enacted November 4, 1993.

    Matter: Because abandoned vessels threaten the marine environment with spills of onboard petroleum and illegally dumped hazardous material, Congress may wish to consider enacting the proposed legislation to: (1) make it illegal to abandon barges in the nation's waterways and provide appropriate administrative fines and penalties as a deterrent; and (2) require registration and permanent marking of all barges.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Legislation in line with the GAO recommendation was enacted November 4, 1992. It addressed barges but not other types of vessels. Additional legislation is unlikely.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider enacting additional legislation making the abandonment of other types of vessels illegal.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers have developed an inventory of abandoned barges. The Coast Guard also has instituted policies to ensure that the inventory is periodically updated. The inventory will be used by both agencies to address problems posed by abandoned vessels.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an accurate inventory of abandoned vessels and their location to facilitate the capability of both agencies to address the problems posed by such vessels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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