When Crab Island businesses break loose, who's to blame?

Savannah Vasquez
Crab Island business WaterWorld Destin drifted inland last Thursday night and came close to hitting the fuel docks at Destin Marina.

Last Thursday, Destin saw another big storm. Besides the rain, thunder and lightning, strong winds blew a business anchored on Crab Island within feet of hitting land dangerously close to boat fuel pumps at the Destin Marina.

“It came within 10 to 20 feet from our main fuel dock,” said Chris White, manager of Destin Marina. “If the one anchor that was left had broken loose, we would have had a major, major fuel spill out here.”

White said this isn’t the first time a Crab Island business has broken loose and run aground; in fact, he said it is quite common.

“Well, I’d say at least once, maybe twice a year a barge comes unanchored and blows around,” he said. “They’ve pushed up against the dock here and one business hit the net reel next door this past winter and damaged it.”

From his perspective, White said this is something that needs to be addressed before a big accident happens — either in the waterway or on land. However, finding the correct law enforcement agency to handle Crab Island businesses is tricky.

“I talked with the Coast Guard about it and they said they were going to get back with me,” White said. “I believe personally that everybody should be made to take their stuff home. I don’t care how many anchors you have on it, something could happen to it. With WaterWorld Destin (the business that broke loose), it drifted across navigable waters out there; it could have been a pretty big deal.”

When asked what they could do about drifting businesses, Destin Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathaniel Wells said they are limited but can offer some help.

“As far as the businesses that can be out there and the regulations for that side of things, such as business licenses and stuff, we don’t have anything to do with that,” Wells said. “What we do regulate is the marine safety side of things as far as the barges must have licensed captains in order to have people on board — if they don’t, we can enforce federal regulations on that. That’s really the only thing we could enforce on it.”

As for the Okaloosa County Sherriff’s Office, spokeswoman Michele Nicholson said that although they do patrol the area, they do not have jurisdiction over the businesses; those, she said, fall to the state as Crab Island is in state waters.

“We patrol Crab Island but it’s for criminal type of issues when someone is cited or arrested,” she said. “We don’t actually regulate the businesses. They’ve had that ongoing issue and have talked about regulating the businesses, but that would be a state issue.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that in the case of floating barges, they also have their hands tied.

“With this particular company, WaterWorld Destin, it is considered a floating structure, not a vessel,” said FWC Public Information Director Bekah Nelson. “If it were a vessel, we would then regulate it as to the state statutes with navigational lights and a Florida registration number, but since it is a floating struc-ture, we do not regulate those.”

Nelson added that state statutes allow for a local government such as Okaloosa County or the City of Destin to create laws for the Crab Island waterway. As of right now, however, she said if the floating business had caused harm to another business or watercraft, that would be a case to be brought up between pri-vate attorneys.

In the case of Destin Marina and WaterWorld Destin, White said he was able to contact the Crab Island business owner and the floating barge was moved within a few hours.

“He called me and apologized for what had happened,” White said. “But if he is going to leave his stuff there, he needs to anchor it up a little better, with more than two anchors on that big of a building.”