Boat owners hit by hurricanes still in limbo

NEW ORLEANS – Two months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, most of the tens of thousands of boat owners whose vessels were impacted are still in limbo.

The government estimates that 35,000 to 45,000 private vessels were grounded, sunk or went missing during the hurricanes, according to a recent article in The Times-Picayune.

And it has been estimated that up to half of those boat owners were uninsured or underinsured.

The Coast Guard is tied up trying to help commercial vessel owners without the resources to address recreational boaters, leaving the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality and Army Corps of Engineers debating which body ultimately should be responsible, the newspaper stated.

Few, if any, resources are available to help those who boats are still missing. And those boats whose owners are not found may eventually be sold or destroyed, according to the newspaper.

Those who know where their boats are have, in many cases, been working with privately-owned salvage firms, one of which has been accused of price gouging.

The newspaper tells the story, for instance, of a school teacher whose entire FEMA check went toward the recovery of his 21-foot sailboat.

BoatU.S. secures restraining order

In an interview last month, Carroll Robertson, senior vice president of Claims for BoatU.S. Marine Insurance, said the company obtained a restraining order against Marine Recovery and Salvage LLC, which was named as the sole salvage contractor for the Orleans Marina and the South Shore Harbor Marina by the Levee Board in the wake of Katrina.

“They were demanding rates that were two and a half to three times the going rate,” she explained. “In addition, they started spraying the hulls with their ID number with red spray paint, which detracted from their salvage value.”

The company had been formed on Sept. 8 and BoatU.S. found no indication that it had any prior boat salvage experience.

The insurance company now is working directly with Resolve Marine Group, and Robertson said salvage has been moving along.

“It will be a long, laborious process. We estimate that recreational boating damage is in the $650- to $750-million range,” she commented. “A lot of those boats – 40 to 50 percent – were uninsured or underinsured.”

Resolve Marine Group is one of several marine salvage firms working with insurance companies in the area. Salvage Direct, for instance, is also recovering boats on behalf of customers such as Progressive Insurance from a base in Gulfport.

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