Potential buyers find no electronics when they tour DMR boats

Potential buyers get a surprise when they tour agency's fishing boats

jphampton@sunherald.comJuly 9, 2013 

BILOXI -- They tugged on railings, picked at cracks, went up ladders and peered down hatches. They snapped photographs with cell phones and asked to hear the roar of the diesel engines.

In the end, though, the potential buyers who came to inspect the state Department of Marine Resources' Topaz and Californian boats found something lacking. All the electronics have been removed from the boats, right down to the stereo systems. The DMR was showing the two recreational fishing boats Tuesday at the Small Craft Harbor in hopes of attracting bidders. The vessels will be open for inspection again Thursday and the bids will be opened Tuesday at the Commission on Marine Resources meeting at the Bolton Building on Biloxi's Back Bay.

Those who toured the boats -- a total of 12 people in five groups -- were noncommittal. One even refused to give his name, saying there was "too much controversy."

No bids have been submitted, said DMR spokesman Melissa Scallan, but the agency will accept them until 3 p.m. Monday.

Some doubted the DMR would come close to recouping the more than $1.4 million it spent on the boats before it owned them.

"They're probably not going to get what they want for them," said Arla Orrels, a retiree who is from Louisiana but also has a home in Gulfport. She and her husband, Jacob, own a shrimp boat and are considering trying to buy one of the DMR boats.

"We're always looking for something better," Jacob Orrels said.

"You could get it for the

right money," his wife said. "You put a little money into it. They're floating, that's the main thing."

Electronic devices gone

But she said the absence of electronics means they have some more figuring to do.

"All the electronics are gone," she said. "You have to figure that cost into your plans." The electronics weren't listed in the boat specifications the DMR gave to potential bidders. But the electronics were listed in the bill of sale between the DMR and The Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation, which was part of the bid packet.

"It's equipment that's beneficial to the agency: VHF radios, radar, GPS systems, things of that nature," Scallan said. "It was things that we could use on boats in fisheries and possibly in marine patrol. It would be equipment that we wouldn't have to buy when we needed it for other boats. They're not going to take anything out of a boat that would leave a hole in the boat."

The foundation, which had been leasing the boats to the DMR, obtained them from the Gulf Coast YMCA in Ocean Springs and YADA, a charity run by former YMCA Executive Director David Harris. The foundation was started by Bill Walker, the former executive director of DMR who was fired in the midst of an investigation by state and federal authorities. Walker has denied any wrongdoing.

At the time, the Californian was valued at $350,000 and the Topaz at $284,000 for insurance purposes.

More interest in larger boat

Judging by the amount of time prospective buyers spent on the two boats, there was more interest in the 42-foot Californian than the 36-foot Topaz.

"That one has been kept up better," Jacob Orrels said.

Glyn Hilbun of Pascagoula said he was looking for a boat that would be an improvement over his 36-footer, but he's not sure the Californian is the one.

"My wife would like a nicer boat with air conditioning and everything," he said. "But I sure don't want another headache."

One of those headaches would be replacing the electronics, which he estimated would cost $15,000.

"For what people are going to bid, they're not going to let it go," he said.

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