WESTERLY — A sinking 23-foot sailboat that had been anchored off Weekapaug Point has been towed to Westerly Marina amid concerns that the vessel would eventually wash up in the breachway.
Community Officer Howard Mills and two other officers with the Westerly Police Department towed the boat on Tuesday afternoon after the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Coast Guard turned away requests for assistance.
Police Chief Shawn Lacey said that although there was no immediate threat or environmental hazard, the boat presented several long-term problems.
"The owner had been living on the boat and it was filled with totes and all his personal belongings," Lacey said. "If we don't address it and the boat sinks, these are items that would end up eventually washing on shore, or worse could drag" into the Weekapaug Breachway and create a hazard."
According to police reports, the boat arrived on Monday and was anchored for several hours. Observers could not see the owner, Stephen Dauphin, 67, who was inside the cabin.
Misquamicut firefighters approached the vessel in a boat and made contact with Dauphin, who said he had anchored it because it was taking on water and he wasn't sure what else to do. The police said that Dauphin lived on the boat and had sailed to the area from Jamestown after being asked to leave earlier in the day.
Lacey said the DEM was notified and gave Dauphin a ride to the WARM Shelter in Westerly. The DEM police turned the matter over to the Coast Guard.
On Tuesday morning, Lacey said, a battery-powered pump stopped working and the boat began to sink. Coast Guard personnel sought a ride from the police and found there was no fuel hazard. Police also spoke with Dauphin and were told to "let it sink," because he couldn't afford to fix the boat.
Lacey said the department contacted Sea Tow for assistance but the company wouldn't remove the vessel, saying it couldn't recuperate the cost.
"We couldn't leave it. It would have led to all his belongings and possibly even the boat washing to shore, or worse, and then it's a problem we will need to address anyway," Lacey said. "So Officer Mills went back out with two officers and they towed the boat in."
The job took nearly three hours to complete, the police said. Lacey said now that the boat and personal belongings have been removed from the water, the town is looking at options to recover costs and assist the owner.
"Our main concerns have been addressed. The boat is sitting safely at the marina while we are able to develop some sort of plan on what comes next," Lacey said.