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Partially submerged riverboat still on Southbank

Section of riverwalk remains closed due to fuel leak

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A retired riverboat that began sinking Tuesday while docked along the Southbank Riverwalk remains partially submerged in the river while a salvage company continues to clean up spilled diesel fuel.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the boat cannot be safely removed until all of the leaked fuel is cleaned up, which means a stretch of the Riverwalk remains closed.

The company hired to clean up the fuel that spilled says the job is "substantially completed," but the U.S. Coast Guard said the boat cannot safely be moved until all the fuel oil is cleaned up.

"It's rusted. It's nasty. It's awful and it's just a big eyesore," Mike Oehler said. "It's a shame that all that stuff got in the water."

A portion of the Riverwalk is still closed where the Lady St. Johns  and another out-of-service paddle boat, the Annabelle Lee, have been docked since the ship failed a Coast Guard inspection more than a year ago.

The owner told News4Jax he just doesn't have the money for repairs and has been trying to sell them for scrap.

"The people and residents in this building have been complaining about these riverboats for a couple of years," Oehler said. "It just seemed to get magnified once we completed this beautiful Riverwalk, and then you walk by these two derelicts."

Steven Gilbert, who has walked the Southhbank Riverwalk for years, said word got around quick when the boat started to sink.

"I was pretty shocked just to see it like that," Gilbert said.

What caused the boat to begin taking on water and begin to leak the 150 gallons of diesel on board is still under investigation by the Coast Guard.

"I recall the ship owners talking and the managers talking about how the ship would always get caught on the buffers as the tide would shift, and I suspect that it's probably ripped open one of the seams," resident Dana Harmel said. "They never dredged out this water when they built the new Riverwalk, so these poor guys were stuck with pretty much parking in the mud the whole time."

Others said the boat should have been removed long ago.

"It seemed stupid to me that somebody didn't say, 'This thing won't last long. Let's tow it out of here and get rid of it before something else happens," Oehler said.