Government agencies pass the buck on wrecked sailboat

This 37-foot sailboat washed ashore between Big Dume and Little Dume beach in Dec. 2010 after the boat’s captain fell asleep. The wreckage remained on the beach for nearly a year as various governmental agencies said it was not their responsibility to tow the wreckage away.

A year after a 37-foot sailboat washed up on shore between Big Dume and Little Dume beaches, government agencies continue to pass on responsibility.

By Megan Farmer / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu residents are about to start a new year with the same old problem: Just who is responsible for cleaning beach wreckage from Point Dume?

A year ago this month, a 37-foot sailboat washed ashore between Big Dume and Little Dume beach after the boat’s captain fell asleep. The captain and his two cats were unharmed in the incident, but the wreckage remained on the beach for nearly a year, before recently washing away. The sailboat sat on the beach through rain and shine, becoming weathered and broken down over time, with beachgoers occasionally examining and exploring it.

Local residents and members of the Malibu Public Safety Commission say the shipwrecked boat was both an environmental and safety hazard. Aside from whatever gasoline or oil may have been in the boat when it wrecked, the decomposing sailboat also left dangerous debris to spread across the beach and into the water.

Shari Latta frequents the beach at Point Dume regularly and wants a solution found for the issue.

“Environmentally this is horrible, there were pieces of fiberglass all over, including all the way past Paradise Cove” said Latta, who said she has picked up various pieces of interior foam from the boat, as well as wire, plywood, and rusty nails and screws.

Latta worries for the safety of other beachgoers, especially children, who may slice themselves on glass or step on rusty nails that are hidden in the sand.

“I don’t understand how this can sit here for so long, we do have a litter law,” Latta said. “It’s frustrating that if a sheriff saw someone drop a cigarette butt or a candy wrapper on the beach they would be fined, but the biggest piece of litter on the beach has been sitting there for a year and the owner hasn’t had to take responsibility for it.”

But determining which agency is responsible for removing the wreckage has been an ongoing problem.

Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Debbie Talbot told The Malibu Times that the beach does not lay in the department’s area of jurisdiction, and that the department never received formal requests to remove the boat. Talbot said if the boat had been in their jurisdiction, it would have cost around $10,000 to remove it and would also require hunting down the owner to deal with his or her insurance company.

California State Parks Acting District Superintendent Craig Sap told The Times that the boat originally landed on state property, but quickly washed further down the beach off state property after being beached. This resulted in months of the boat remaining onshore.

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Lifeguards (which is part of Beaches and Harbors) said since the beach is a state preserve, the state should have removed it. The officer also said the primary responsibility laid with the boat owner, since the boat was private property.

Public Safety Commissioner David Saul said there had been numerous attempts to get help removing the boat, including asking the Los Angeles Fire Department to burn the boat and use it as a training exercise, which fell through due to a requirement of a permit to burn a fire at the beach.

Eventually, the majority of the boat floated out to sea and was towed away by the county lifeguards.

“There’s been a lot of finger pointing, but no action,” Public Safety Commissioner Marlene Matlow said. “What we need here is a joint effort, because there is a glitch in the system.”

Matlow suspects that the financial problems the state is facing and tight budget cuts may play a role in their reluctance to address the issue, but she is still searching for a way to get a policy in place for the future.

Latta is one resident who hopes a policy is found sooner rather than later, “This is a problem that isn’t going away, there’s been at least 3 incidences of boats wrecking on shore that I can recall in the last 11 years, guaranteed it will happen again.”