Crews stop fuel leak from retired passenger boat

Section of Southbank Riverwalk closed due to sinking boat

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A retired paddle boat that was a staple on the St. Johns River for years is now partially submerged in the water along the Southbank Riverwalk. The U.S. Coast Guard says the boat is no longer leaking diesel fuel, but it's unclear how long cleanup will take.

An oil sheen can be seen in the water around the boat.

Crews from the Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) responded just after 7 p.m. Tuesday to reports of fuel leaking from The Lady St. Johns, which was listing to one side. The crews were back Wednesday working with a diving and salvage company to drain the remaining fuel.

"Hopefully, we will have as much of the sheen cleaned up that can possibly be cleaned up, because you reach a point where you can't recover it and nature has to take care of it," FDEP spokesman Gracie Kennedy said.

The boat will have to be towed away, but that won't happen until the fuel cleanup is complete.

The boat's owner's told News4Jax it has not been in service since it received a failed inspection over a year ago. He said he's upset that this happened, but is thankful it wasn't in service because no passengers or crew were on board.

He said this boat and the Annabelle Lee have been docked because he doesn't have the $65,000 it would coast to repair just one of them. He said he wrote to Mayor Lenny Curry in July saying he was willing to sell the boats at scrap prices, but that hasn't happened.

Investigators are trying to determine how much of the 150 gallons of fuel reported to be on board leaked into the St. Johns River. They are also looking into what caused the boat begin taking on water. 

"I just came out this morning to look at how well the cleanup took place last night. It looks much better than it did on last night," said Gracie Kennedy, an emergency response specialist from DEP.

Some of the fuel did make it outside the absorbent beams that were used to keep the spill from spreading.

Kennedy believes nature should be able to take care of any damage caused to the river.

"Some of it went out. We know that. That's just part of having to do some of the work out here. Some is in the channel so it was sloshed back and forth. The sun, the churning of the river will help take care of that," she said.

It's expected that the Lady St. Johns owner could face fines, but that will be determined after an assessment review of how much diesel leaked into the water.

Environmental officials said have not had any reports on impact to wildlife.  Officials said they hope to have Riverwalk opened back up as soon as possible.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the Jacksonville City Waterways manager assisted the FDEP at the scene. It will be up to the owner to pay for removing the boat.