7Investigates: Boat Bail Outs

BOSTON (WHDH) - You may not own a boat—but you might actually be paying for one… when it sinks! Hank Phillippi Ryan’s exclusive investigation reveals you actually pay big bucks for boat bailouts.  Why? And who is responsible? Hank investigates.

The harbormaster watched and captured video with his cell phone the death of the Irish Piper. Abandoned in Gloucester Harbor.

It had to be refloated and towed to a boatyard where it was pulled out of the water and demolished.

The total price tag for the job: $10,000.

And when this trawler shipwrecked and sank in the same harbor, it too had to be towed and scrapped.

The price tag for that: $41,000.

Who paid for it all? Gloucester Harbormaster Thomas Ciarametaro told 7 Investigates most likely you did.

“The taxpayers pay for it?” Investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan asked.

“Yeah,” Ciarametaro said.

And our investigation found Massachusetts taxpayers are paying big bucks for the cleanup and removal of other people’s abandoned boats.

“I think it’s a major problem and it’s a growing problem,” Ciarametaro said.

When harbormasters discover an abandoned ship they try to track the owner and trace hull numbers. But many times those numbers have been removed and owners can’t be found.

“Boat owners are responsible just like car,” Ciarametaro said.

If a boat sinks, washes ashore and becomes a public safety hazard, officials have to remove it quickly.

“You’re creating a dangerous situation for all the other boaters out there so the wreck needs to be removed,” Ciarametaro said.

Harbormasters often can’t just sell them to pay for cleanup because usually,t the boats aren’t worth much, so it’s the taxpayers who float the cost.

Quincy police say one sailboat cost taxpayers $8000.

“Usually people are very irresponsible. They thought they were getting into an inexpensive hobby. They find out the expenses. They get overwhelmed and they finally just walk away from it,” Quincy Police Lt. Bob Gillan, deputy harbormaster said.

Our exclusive survey of Massachusetts harbormasters reveals over the past few years abandoned vessels cost taxpayers nearly $200,000.

“It’s a cost that the citizens shouldn’t have to pay for,” Gillan said.

Harbormasters now patrol on high alert, they know fall is prime time for irresponsible owners to leave their boats behind.

“Here we go again. We gotta figure out how we’re gonna pay for it,” Ciarametaro said.

In response to our questions, state lawmakers tell us they’re now scouting new ways to help harbormasters pay for abandoned boats–without asking tax payers to bail them out.

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