Only the top of the shrimp boat’s pilothouse was visible Wednesday morning from the Port Royal dock where the 60-foot vessel had floated abandoned for months. The shrimp boat sank Tuesday, sending fuel into Battery Creek and calling attention to the other rotting, junk-laden and abandoned boats amassed at the town-owned dock.
On a neighboring shrimp boat, grass and vines grew on the deck where a Jet Ski and trailer were stored, and birds bathed in rain water on the boat’s skiff.
“It’s disgusting and embarrassing,” Town Councilman Jerry Ashmore wrote in an email to council members and town staff Tuesday night, describing contaminated water and decaying, blighted vessels at the dock.
In the wake of the shrimp boat sinking at the publicly operated dock — and the resulting sheen of apparent fuel in Battery Creek — town officials are vowing to clear the area of boats abandoned, behind on rent and in disrepair.
The boat that sank this week, along with another submerged and abandoned vessel, will be pulled to the water’s edge, broken into pieces and hauled away in a trash container, Town Manager Van Willis said. Officials will work with a Yemassee contractor to remove the boats as soon as possible, he said.
“If those folks owe us money or they’re not shrimping, they don’t need to be here,” Willis said. “This is supposed to be a working shrimping dock.”
The town does not yet have a cost estimate for the work, but the process is expected to cost thousands of dollars.
Boats that haven’t been active or boats whose owners haven’t paid rent during the past six months will be targeted for removal eventually. But Willis said the town will not immediately haul out and dispose of all the derelict boats — only those submerged.
“I don’t want to bear that cost yet,” Willis said.
About a dozen boats make up the fleet at the dock, which runs parallel to the shore in Battery Creek at the end of 11th Street in the town’s Old Village area. Port Royal allocates public money each year to maintain and operate the dock and the scene of shrimp nets, an ode to the town’s history and a favorite sight of visitors and waterfront diners.
Most of the time, the town has operated the dock at a loss as shrimpers compete with imported seafood and rising fuel costs.
Town officials and developers who purchased the former port terminal along Battery Creek in 2017 to develop into homes, shops and restaurants are working to determine the future of the dock, who should own and operate it.
A nonprofit organization formed to support the seafood industry in Port Royal established a pop-up retail operation, selling shrimp from under a tent near the dock.
The town doesn’t plan for the shrimp boats to go away. But officials expect the waterfront to be cleaned up.
Three boats at the dock are submerged; others are visibly decaying. Only one is currently shrimping — its spot at the dock was empty Wednesday morning.
The sunken boat had been at the dock about eight months, dock manager Joey Morris said. The owner lived on the boat for the first month before leaving, he said.
A Coast Guard spokesman said Tuesday that the sinking boat contained only 10 to 15 gallons of fuel and that there was little risk of pollution. But town officials who inspected the site and a developer who is part of the group that owns much of the nearby waterfront property said that estimate may be too conservative.
A sheen could be seen in the water around the town’s boardwalk tower Tuesday morning. Whit Suber, a developer with Grey Ghost Properties, said he could smell leaked fuel while at the restaurant overlooking the shrimp dock Tuesday night. Residents nearby reported the smell from their homes.
“I’m out here all the time,” Suber said Wednesday at the dock, “and there’s never been that much fuel in the water.”