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Gov. signs new derelict vessel rules stemming from Penn Cove sinking

Legislation bolstering Washington state’s derelict vessel rules was signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Stemming from the sinking of the M/V Deep Sea in Penn Cove last year — an event that shut down shellfish harvesting for a month and cost taxpayers $5.4 million — the statutes are a grab-bag of small measures that lawmakers hope will reduce the likelihood of such events in the future.

“This bill helps get us on the right track to improving the conditions of our state‚“ waterways,” said Inslee in a statement released by the governor’s office.

“Derelict vessels pose a very serious threat to the environment and to our state’s economic well-being.”

The new statutes make permanent previously temporary funding of the state Department of Ecology’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program. They provide regulators with the authority they need to board and inspect abandoned or derelict vessels before they sink.

The new rules also decriminalize registration violations from a misdemeanor crime to a civil infraction. That, lawmakers concluded, will make enforcement and fine collection more realistic for law enforcement officers and increase owner accountability requirements for vessels more than 65 feet long and more than 40 years old.

One of the legislation’s champions was Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton.

Efforts will continue this summer with stakeholders to “improve the opportunities for deconstruction and recycling of vessels, and strengthen prevention strategies,” Smith said.

During an interview last month, Smith said additional legislation may be proposed next year.

“Derelict vessels pose a serious threat to Puget Sound and the coastlines of Washington state,” Smith said.

“The crisis we experienced at Penn Cove last year with the sinking of a derelict vessel highlights what’s  at stake.”

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