On the morning of Monday, June 14, anyone on the Swansboro waterfront may have noticed smoke rising from the heap of smoldering fiberglass on Pelican Island.
Twice that morning, at 2:52 and 8:11, Swansboro Fire Department responded to calls from citizens and sent crews to the island to extinguish the fire that had destroyed a 32-foot boat.
In addition to Swansboro Fire, a crew from Coast Guard Station Emerald Isle visited the site in the wake of the fire. However it appears that neither agency is planning to follow up on the potential environmental damage.
SFD does not have the capability to handle the cleanup, according to Capt. Robert Hannon. And officials with Coast Guard Station Swansboro referred questions to the Fort Macon station, which was essentially unaware of the incident.
So, as folks keep an eye on the remnants of the burned vessel on the island in the White Oak River between Swansboro and Cedar Point, the hope is that the owner, who has said he is working to have the mess cleaned up, is able to follow through.
Dave Newsom of Swansboro, a boat owner and regular on the downtown waterfront, has spoken with the owner of what many considered a derelict vessel, and Newsom said he has high hopes that what is left of the fiberglass boat, a Trojan 32, will be removed from Pelican Island.
Newsom came to be familiar with the owner – a young man who has introduced himself to the Tideland News as Anthony, but declined to give a last name – when Anthony was living aboard the boat while it was tied up at Swansboro’s Church Street Dock. A housepainter by trade, Anthony said he has been getting work around Swansboro, painting and doing odd jobs.
Anthony said he arrived in town around the first of May. He said he purchased the boat in Jacksonville and was en route to New Bern when the vessel broke down.
“I had to be towed to the dock,” he said.
Newsom, who helped Anthony tie up on arrival at the Church Street Dock, said Towboat US pulled the 32-footer to the dock.
“Evidently, the boat … was not capable of moving on its own – broken motor and no steering – and after several days at the town dock, the town cut him loose, literally,” Newsom said.
Anthony said he did not have the funds to pay for the dockage so he untied and allowed the boat to drift before throwing an anchor.
“His anchor setup was inadequate and the boat, over several days, drifted closer and closer to shore,” Newsom said. “The Coast Guard was called, inspected the vessel and cited the owner for inadequate lighting, no anchor lights. Several days later I was asked by a downtown business owner … to tow the boat back to the town dock. I refused, but agreed to tow the boat to the shallow area near Pelican Island where I knew his anchor would hold. The boat would be out of the harbor and in a location where an anchor light would not be an issue.”
Meanwhile, Newsom said he got in touch with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to check the status of the boat.
“Wildlife called me next day to inform me the boat was registered as ‘junked’ several years ago in Jacksonville,” he said. “They said they would try and track down the owner of the vessel to have it removed.”
However, Newsom said Wildlife did not follow up.
Newsom said that Anthony came to possess a small boat in late-May and was in the midst of doing some work on it when he accidentally set it on fire.
“He used the fire extinguisher from the big boat to put out the flames on the little tow boat,” Newsom said. “Evidently, after a few days he was able to get the little tow boat operational again.”
Newsom said that when he learned of the fire that destroyed the 32-foot vessel early on the morning of June 14, he went to Pelican Island to see the damage. While there, he ran into Anthony.
“He informed me that he was on the boat when it caught fire,” Newsom said. The fire started about midnight, according to that account. “He said he was trying to cook a can of soup and he went to the rear cockpit for a moment. He turned around to find the stove had set his recliner on fire. He immediately grabbed the fire extinguisher … only to realize it was empty due to the other fire on the other boat. He said he tried to drag the recliner out to the cockpit so he could throw it over, but it would not fit through the door. While he wrestled with the burning recliner, the flames jumped to the interior of the cabin and quickly spread. He was forced to abandon ship, receiving minor burns to his arms and face.”
About fire on a boat, Anthony said, “It goes up fast.”
He said he was lucky to get off the boat. The fire reached the fuel tanks about the time he was trying to untie his kayak and had he not been in the water when the tanks exploded, he could have been killed. “It blew up just over my head,” he said, “I’m alive.”
Anthony said he reached the mainland while the boat was ablaze, which falls in line with the report by the Swansboro Fire Department, that when crews arrived at 2:52 a.m., they were alone on the island.
Anthony said that after the fire, he and Capt. Joe Webb were on Webb’s sport-fishing boat and could see people combing Pelican Island, picking up his few belonging that weren’t destroyed in the fire. “They looted my boat,” Anthony said. He added that Webb told him: “You’re in a scrape, you’ll be in five or six more scrapes before it’s all over.”
If there is good news, it is that it appears all the fuel burned off and did not contaminate the shoreline, according to Anthony. “It looks like it all burned off.”
He said that he lost everything in the fire, his cash, clothes and personal items. Folks have been helpful though, giving him clothes and work so that he could earn some cash. “I’ll be alright,” he said.
By Thursday, June 17, he was at the island working on cleaning up the debris.
“Whatever I can’t get I’m going to have to hire somebody,” Anthony said.
In the meantime, he is hoping to find another boat that he can fix up to live aboard. He doesn’t see any other alternative.
“I’m stuck now,” Anthony said. “I thought I was stuck before, but I’m really stuck now.”
Email Jimmy Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.