Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says theres a total of 32 derelict vessels that need to be removed from the water, and from now on, law enforcement will be stricter when it comes to abandoned boats.By Casey Albritton

DUNEDIN, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Abandoned boats are becoming a huge issue in the Tampa Bay Area…and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is making a plan to change that.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says theres a total of 32 derelict vessels that need to be removed from the water, and from now on, law enforcement will be stricter when it comes to abandoned boats.

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Gualtieri says the department will be removing 17 derelict vessels from the Tampa Bay this week and he says going forward the process of removing these abandoned boats will be a lot faster.

“There are a lot more of them than there used to be and they continue to stack up and we are getting a lot more citizen complaints,” said Gualtieri.

Gualtieri is talking about abandoned boats out on the Tampa Bay, called derelict vessels.

Julie Ward Bujalski, Dunedin Mayor, says “For us, the inter-coastal is a roadway, it’s just a water roadway. So you wouldn’t leave an abandoned car on alt-19 and you shouldn’t leave an abandoned boat on this waterway.”

Right now sheriff Gualtieri says there’s a total of 32 abandoned boats that need to be removed from the waters in Pinellas County, and he says the department’s efforts to remove the boats in the past wasn’t working.

“The process we were using weren’t yielding results. And going through the criminal court system, trying to get fines, trying to get sanctions, trying to get penalties, trying to get order of removal was just a waste of time,” said Gualtieri.

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So now the new process is simple. If the sheriff’s office finds a boat that’s been abandoned, they will leave a notice on the boat. The owner has 21 days to request a hearing and get their boat removed. If they don’t, the sheriff’s department and divecom marine services will remove the boat and destroy it.

“To make sure we that we can get any kind of contaminates that are dangerous to the environment, so we can get the fuel out of there, the oil out of there so the county can go in an remove and hazard that may be leaking into the water,” said Kathleen Peters, a Pinellas County Commissioner.

Gualtieri says it’s not only an environmental issue.

“We are really lucky that it hasn’t led to somebody being hurt by running into one of these and we’ve had kids jumping off of these walls in cases and swimming in these. So it really is a problem and a public safety issue,” said Gualtieri.

He says going forward he hopes the new removal process will help keep the water and the community safer.

“Going forward, we are going to clean this mess up and we are not going to let it get back to where it is.”

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Sheriff Gualtieri says the department has tried fining owners who have abandoned their boats, but that didn’t work. Now the decision to remove the boat is up to the owner’s personal responsibility.