Southport Marina after Hurricane Isaias

Hurricane Isaias slammed into Brunswick County in the late evening hours of August 3, causing catastrophic damage to Southport Marina and severely damaging many boats still moored there.

Those boat owners were shocked last week when some receive bills from the marina for over $20,000 to pay for the damage.

“When I received the package in the mail, I assumed it was going to be documentation for signing up for a lease for this coming year,” said Barry Friemel of Southport. “So, I was a little surprised to receive a letter in which my 42-foot sailboat was assessed for about $20,000 as my portion of repairs of the marina, and another $3,000 to ‘salvage’ my boat.”

The salvage involved towing his boat out of the marina basin and into the nearby Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway – something that had been done previously by another towing business, which had charged his insurance company nearly $5,000. According to the notification Friemel received from the marina, “Significant risk was incurred in saving the vessels which were recovered as soon as possible at substantial cost in terms of labor and materials expended by our team in rendering the salvage service.”

Additionally, according to marina management, dock reconstruction costs are being passed onto marina slip holders because their boats had caused the catastrophic damage by being tied up to the docks during the hurricane, rather than being removed before the Category 1 storm’s arrival.

The cost of more than $3.3-million to rebuild the marina was divided among the total footage – 6,531 lineal feet – of the 185 boats moored in the marina at the time of the hurricane. That figure was then multiplied by the lengths of the slip holders’ boats to arrive at the individual sums they owe. Friemel grudgingly submitted a claim to his insurance company based on the marina’s figures and is currently awaiting approval.

The marina’s actions were buoyed by a study undertaken by Andrew Consulting Engineers P.C. of Wilmington. The firm was retained to investigate the cause of the marina’s mooring system failure and damage during Hurricane Isaias. The investigation began in August 2020.

In a March 10, 2021, letter to Robin Rose of Southport Marina, the firm concluded that if the vessels had vacated the marina, the pilings would not have been overstressed with the storm conditions and the marina mooring system would not have failed.

“In our professional opinion, the mooring system met industry standards. The added lateral forces due to the presence of the vessels during the storm conditions caused the failure of and damage to the marina mooring system,” the report noted.

However, some boat owners who leased slips at Southport Marina dispute that conclusion.

John Geddie, another Southport Marina slip holder, had much the same experience as Friemel.

“It was a horrible experience for everybody,” the Belville resident said.

He noted that when he opened the package from Southport Marina, it stated that repairs were continuing and the marina was looking forward to welcoming him back. The next pages, however, carried a different message. As for many other boat owners, he was hit with an exceptionally large assessment for his portion of the rebuilding, as well as for the salvage of his boat.

The experience was repeated many times over with other slip holders. Another couple, who wished not to be identified, had moved their new 42-foot boat to the marina just a week before Isaias’ rampage.

“It was quite a shock when we received the package. We thought maybe it was our welcome back packet,” they said. However, like others who received the notification, they were shocked by its salvage and damage assessments.

“We have never heard of a marina trying to place the blame [for storm damage] on their slip holders,” they stated.

Additionally, they noted there was no place to take their boat in Southport prior to the storm – and there was no way to get it there anyway. They also noted that the marina had a policy of not allowing boat owners to park their boats in the facility parking lot once the vessels were removed from the water.

“And it would have been a danger to us to try to outrun the approaching hurricane in our boat,” they noted.

Marina management’s notice to each owner included a “Notice of Claim for Salvage” and a “Notice of Claim for Damage to Facility.”

It states, “Your Marine Insurance policy (required as a condition of your slip license) should provide coverage for the salvage described herein.”

The Notice of Claim for Damage to Facility (Marina) states, “Page 3, paragraph 5 (d) of your Slip License Agreement states in pertinent part: (d) Make arrangements for the safe mooring or removal of the Vessel on the approach of a storm and be responsible for the costs to repair of any damage caused by the Vessel to the Marina docks, pilings and/or other boats…”

The Pilot contacted Southport Marina management for comment but had not received a response by press time.