Section 40. A claimant wishing to obtain title to a vessel abandoned upon public land or the shores or waters of the commonwealth or upon any private property or the water thereof adjacent to public land or the shores or waters of the commonwealth and not subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States may apply to the office for title under this section. If there is more than 1 claimant, the office shall give preference for the claim in the following order: (i) lienholders, in order of priority as determined by admiralty or maritime law; and (ii) the first of the following to file: the department, the office, another political subdivision of the commonwealth, the municipal government or jurisdiction wherein the vessel lies and the government of the United States of America or any political subdivision thereof. In no event shall preference be granted if emergency conditions exist and the procedures under this section would jeopardize navigation, public health or safety. In the event that there is more than 1 equal claimant, the office shall hold an auction and the title, subject to valid liens as provided for hereunder, shall go to the highest bidder.
Prior to applying to the office for title pursuant to section 41, the claimant shall: (i) if the vessel has an identification number, a registration number, equipment numbers, a certificate of documentation number, a certificate of number or other means of identification, contact the office to determine if the vessel has been stolen; (ii) secure the owner’s last known address and the address of any lienholder appearing on record if, after 30 days, the office determines that the vessel is abandoned and not stolen; provided, however, that the claimant shall notify the owner, any known lienholder and the department by certified first class mail, return receipt requested, of the owner’s, lienholder’s or other party’s, as required by regulation address of record; and (iii) if the owner of record fails to reply within 30 days, the claimant shall cause a notice to appear for 3 consecutive printings in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county, city or town of the owner’s last known address, or if the owner’s name and address are unavailable, where known lienholders have their places of business or, if no lienholder’s name and address is known, where the vessel is located; provided, however, that the notice shall include: (1) a description of the vessel and any identifying information; (2) a description of the location where the vessel is situated; (3) a statement informing the owner and any lienholder of their right to reclaim the vessel within 30 days, subject to the rights of any other lienholder; (4) a statement that failure to claim the vessel will constitute a waiver of all rights, title and interest in the vessel; and (5) a statement that if ownership or a lienholder interest is not claimed and the vessel is not removed within 90 days after the owner, the owner’s agent or employee signs the return receipt or within 90 days after the last day of notice by publication, whichever is later, the claimant may apply to the office for title to the vessel.