Florida ferry operator to pay $2.2 million from 2016 grounding

Key West Express has agreed to pay $2.2 million for damages from the grounding of the Big Cat Express in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary four years ago.

The amount was based on the cost of restoring the injured turtle grass and other seagrass, invertebrates, sponges and several fish species, according to the proposed consent decree filed last week in federal court.

The 137’x34’x13’ catamaran that runs between southwest Florida and Key West ran aground at the south entrance to Lakes Passage, about 1.9 miles west of Wisteria Island on Dec. 27, 2016, court documents show. The impact caused trenches, blowholes and associated berms with seagrass habitat injured or destroyed in the sanctuary — an area of about 3,800 square nautical miles of water surrounding the Florida Keys.

The ferry’s captain said he was pushed out of the channel and that parasailing boats were in his way, according to the Miami Herald, citing reports by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

A judge can accept or reject the terms which were negotiated by lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice’s environment and natural resources division at the request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The consent decree motion was unopposed by Key West Express.

An attorney for the Fort Myers, Fla.-based ferry operator did not respond to a request for comment.

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

1 Comment

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    The ferry shouldn’t have left the channel if the vessel was confined to it because of draft.
    But the area would have repaired itself. Species would recover on their own. Grass grows, species reproduce. I suppose the contractor robbed fish and sponges from other areas? That doesn’t even make sense.
    This smells like the typical green boondoggle. 2.2 million to fill a couple short trenches? Some bureaucrat has to appear to be doing their job. It costs everybody money, but especially the people that rely on the ferry. Either the insurance or the ferry pays the fine. If it’s the insurance, we all pay.
    It is not possible to return the world to pre-human conditions.

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