TASMANIA’S Liberal Government will legislate to deal with “the increasing problem” of derelict and abandoned vessels in the state’s waters, if returned at the forthcoming election.

The improved laws would include new powers to require evidence of regular maintenance, to inspect vessels and recover costs of rehabilitation from owners.

The issue has been highlighted by the sinking earlier this year of a former Port of Launceston dredge at Kings Wharf in the upper reaches of Launceston’s Tamar River. The vessel is part of a “rotten row” of vessels owned by the late entrepreneur Les Dick, which also includes two former Hobart tugs (or partially sunken sections thereof), a former Hong Kong/Bruny Island/George Town ferry and a former Bass Strait islands trader.

Minister for infrastructure and transport, Michael Ferguson said the laws will empower authorities to board and inspect vessels where they represent a navigational or environmental risk, including in cases where ownership of these liabilities is contested by owners or estates of deceased owners.

“Derelict vessels are a particular problem in the Tamar River where a number have been left abandoned, including as a result of bankruptcy and the death of owners,” Mr Ferguson said.

“This is a growing issue across Tasmania, but is a particular problem in the upper reaches of the Tamar River where vessels have been left to taxpayers to recover and pay the very substantial costs.

“Abandoned vessels have been allowed to legally shift from privately held assets to expensive public liabilities, with some owners, including the beneficiaries of deceased estates, having no legal responsibility for the cost of remediation.

“The environmental and navigational risks posed by these derelict vessels is also significant.

“Why should the Tasmanian people be forced to stump up the costs to remove vessels that were nostalgic interests of owners who have failed to keep the vessels in a seaworthy condition?

“The former Labor Government brought in laws to supposedly address this issue, but they failed. When one owner was taken to court, the owner won the case and wasn’t required to remove the vessel. This vessel is now under water.”

A re-elected majority Liberal Government would make it impossible to renounce ownership of a vessel and enforce stricter responsibilities on the owners including being registered and keeping the vessel in regular proper maintenance in return for the privilege of enjoying the state’s waterways, Mr Ferguson said.