The two shrimp boats that ran aground in a marsh on the north end of Hilton Head Island last week are being drained of fuel to prevent environmental damage, according to the U.S. Coast Guard's Charleston sector chief.
The Coast Guard took the lead on the removal of the two boats -- the Dianie and the Lady Essie -- from Jarvis Creek late last week after a light sheen appeared on the water near the boats, Lt. Cmdr. Derek Beatty said. Beatty said he did not know what substance caused the sheen.
Moran Environmental Recovery of Savannah was hired to begin draining the 1,300 gallons of fuel in the two boats over the weekend after an investigation showed one had a damaged fuel bladder, Beatty said. The other boat's bladder was intact, he said. Beatty did not say which boat's bladder was damaged.
There is no timetable for removing the boats from the creek. Beatty said the Coast Guard's priority is removing the fuel to limit any environmental effect.
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The Coast Guard is also investigating why the boats ran aground.
The captain of the Port Royal-based Lady Essie, 69-year-old James Murray, was trying to tow the Dianie from a dock at the end of Cora Lee Lane at about 7 a.m. Wednesday when the boats ran aground, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Robin McIntosh said last week.
Murray, of Savannah, said he was unfamiliar with the creek and the shallow areas there. He was the only one onboard during the incident and was not injured, McIntosh said.
Murray said Wednesday the Lady Essie began to list as the tide ran out and came to rest on its side. When the tide returned, the Lady Essie started to take on water and became partially submerged.
Originally, the boats weren't believed to be leaking by the Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol, so the Coast Guard didn't get involved until the sheen appeared late last week. McIntosh said Marine Patrol units are still helping Coast Guard investigators with the boats.
Tracy Breinich, a Hilton Head Island resident, said Monday the Dianie had been anchored at the unused dock before Murray tried to tow it.
Breinich said she had been trying to get the Dianie moved from the dock since July 2011, because she believed it was an environmental hazard. Now, Breinich is worried that if the boat sinks, it will block the creek to homes farther south, including her own.
Breinich said she thinks the Diane has remained tied up at the dock for the past two years; many of the shrimp boat's permits were a few years old, some dating back to 2009.
The dock was in worse shape than the boat, Breinich said, with large planks and buoys breaking off from it and floating into the creek. Breinich said the 50-foot-long dock essentially became two or three shorter sections after the planks holding it together broke apart.
She told the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control about her concerns, she said, but was unable to get it moved.
DHEC spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said the department's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management can issue an abandoned-vessel removal order to remove the boat. A boat is considered abandoned if it is no longer functional for its primary purpose and if repair or salvage activity is not actively being pursued, she said.
Evans said once an order is issued, the owner of the boat has 30 days to remove it from the critical area. There is no set timeframe for the department to issue the order.
Evans said DHEC knows who the boat's owner is, but said it was not â€œappropriateâ€