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Sinking hulk could put Atlantic City on six-figure hook

By JOHN BRAND Staff Writer, (609) 272-7275
Press of Atlantic City


ATLANTIC CITY - After casting her line from the sea wall into the inlet next to Gardner's Basin, Ann King talks about how the good fishing spots are marked by white lines painted onto the metal wall.

Then she points to the line that represents the deepest and best fishing hole in that part of town.

But there's no way to cast a line there.

In front of the mark sits a rusty, junk-filled hulk named Texas.

The boat has been here since May - apparently abandoned by the owners - denying King and her fellow anglers the great fishing spot.

"The locals know the fishing hole," she says as sea gulls fly above and boats drift toward the bridge to Brigantine. "That's the hole. The best one."

She reels in her line.

Nothing.

"(That boat) has messed up a lot of people's fishing this summer," she adds. "They gotta get it out of our way."

Sounds easy, but it's not.

On Monday, the boat began to take on water.

The Coast Guard, unable to find the boat's owners at their Haiti residence, called in a contractor. They pumped 15,000 gallons of water mixed with oil and diesel fuel from the boat.

The boat is a potential hazard to the environment and it soon could sink into the shallow waters and become a hazard to navigation.

Officials say the waterway where the boat now sits is shallow and if it sinks, chances are it wouldn't fully submerge, making it even more arduous to remove.

And if it's towed, it could sink before it reaches its next destination.

"It would have a drastic affect on our second-largest industry - the seafood industry," Atlantic City's Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Foley said Wednesday. "Not to mention the drastic effect it could have on the marina industry, pleasure craft and yachts and it could contaminate our waters."

Federal, state and city officials can't seem to find the boat's owners either, and the city doesn't want to wait for it to sink before taking action.

But it also does not want to foot the bill - expected to be in the six-figure range - to tow or demolish a vessel it doesn't own.

"Nobody is admitting responsibility right now," Joe Dougherty, the city's attorney, said.

Among the candidates to take control of the boat, if and when the Coast Guard declares it abandoned, is the Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the Intracoastal Waterway, the New Jersey State Marine Police or the city.

But everyone seems confused.

"The vessel is not (technically) in the (Intracoastal Waterway) right now," U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's spokesman Ed Voigt said. "Right now we have no responsibility for it."

"Everybody's getting dragged into this," said Sgt. Edward Keebler, of the Marine Police in Atlantic City. "We're making efforts to get it moved. We're trying to find the owners of the boat."

"Something needs to be done with it, but we need to make sure we're not taking control of someone's property," Kim Smith, spokesman for the Coast Guard, said.

The city seems to be preparing for the worst.

Jim Herzog, of the city's demolition department, boarded the boat Wednesday afternoon after a crane operator hired by the city lifted two old pickup trucks from the boat's deck.

The city towed the trucks to a municipal lot.

Herzog made his way along the deck trying to avoid all the junk, including: bicycles, rusty chains, and aged rescue buoys, a rowboat, tables, refrigerators and thick ropes.

"We investigate public safety nuisances," said Herzog, as he took pictures of the boat. "If it's determined that it's the responsibility of the city we will do something about it. But that hasn't been determined yet."

Foley called the recent history of Texas suspicious.

Wilkerson Dormeus and Millford Sonona, of Haiti, bought the boat for $1 in May from a company in Massachusetts.

Then, on May 24, a hired crew sailed the vessel toward its new home in Haiti. The next day, however, the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard answered a mayday call from the ship as it began taking on water, 60 miles off the coast of Atlantic City.

The ship was then moored to the sea wall and on May 26, the engine room caught fire.

The Atlantic City Police Department would not confirm or deny if they are investigating suspicious activity.

In June, a running bilge pump dumped 50 gallons of mostly diesel fuel into the Absecon Inlet.

Regardless, King is tired of looking at the boat.

"Everybody is always knocking Atlantic City," she says. "This is just another thing to knock us for. Look at it, it's not nice."

Then she casts her line again, wishing it could reach beneath the boat to the best fishing hole in that part of town
 

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SO WHEN THEY GOT BACK TO HAITI THEY COULD USE THE TRUCKS TO LOAD UP THE HAITIANS AND BRING THEM BACK TO GOOD OL US OF A
 
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