Ships can now be dismantled on the water

By Steve Guntli


Washington state is taking steps to address the problem of abandoned ships polluting state waterways.

The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) has finalized their vessel deconstruction general permit, which allows businesses and boat owners to deconstruct older vessels that are still in the water.

The new permit comes as a response to concerns about dangerous pollutants being released from older and abandoned vessels. Prior to the permit, there was no allowance for dismantling ships over water.

Disposing of derelict ships can be an expensive prospect. Shipyards zoned for ship disposal can charge anywhere from $50 to $200 per foot to dismantle aSinking-boat-SG ship, not including the costs of hauling, labor and recycling the ship’s components. Ship owners are also responsible for removing any potentially hazardous materials from the ship before completely dismantling them, and the costs are similarly variable by size and weight of the ship.

Aside from the often-prohibitive costs, finding a facility that will deconstruct a ship can be challenging in itself. Of the 14 shipyards currently permitted in Washington, less than half of them will accept ships for deconstruction, said Sandy Howard, communications manager for the DOE. Smaller vessels, usually less than 65 feet, can sometimes be dismantled at boatyards. The DOE currently has 69 permitted boatyards in the state, but as with the larger shipyards, not all of them are prepared to accept boats for deconstruction.

Howard said the department hopes the permits will cut costs for some owners of derelict vessels.

“Costs are highly variable for vessels, often driven more by the hazardous materials present and unique construction of the vessel,” she said. “This permit may be less expensive for some that are not able to get to a shipyard or are unable to find a shipyard that will accept them. A main benefit of this permit is that it creates an option where a shipyard is not currently an option.”

Final deconstruction of a derelict vessel will still need to take place at a shipyard, but the new permit allows any elements of the superstructure, such as the cabin and some of the hull, to be dismantled, which reduces the weight of a vessel and makes it easier and more affordable to haul.

In 2003, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) formed the Derelict Vessel Removal Program (DVRP) to address the growing problem of abandoned craft polluting state waters. The DVRP has since removed more than 400 abandoned ships from Washington waters, but derelict ships remain a problem.

In 2014, the DNR reported that there were more than 220 abandoned vessels still in the water, and of those, more than 20 are longer than 100 feet. Larger industrial and military vessels cost much more to dismantle than smaller private ships, and the cost of removing even one of the larger vessels is more than the DVRP’s annual $900,000 budget.

Permit applications must be filed at least 60 days prior to the beginning of work. To learn how to file for a permit and more information, visit

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