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Admiralty & Maritime Law

Officials Don’t Play; They Say: Remove Grand Piano from Fla. Sandbar! But Salvager Gets There First

Posted Jan 28, 2011 5:14 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A baby grand piano gained fleeting global fame when it suddenly showed up on a sandbar in the midst of Biscayne Bay, off the coast of Florida. It reportedly became the backdrop for at least one fashion shoot, and gained a touch of elegance when someone set a candelabra on its massive wooden top.

Multiple individuals claimed credit for the stunt, but a Florida teen, Nicholas Harrington, was most convincing when he said he intended to make a video of what he considers a performance piece, created with the help of family members, to submit with his college applications, according to the Miami Herald.

A movie prop to begin with, the piano's condition wasn't improved when the 16-year-old burned it before taking it, with the help of others, to the sandbar. Several days in the water, with waves lapping at the instrument's feet and splashing onto higher surfaces then added significant warping effects.

Although government officials reportedly weren't eager to remove the grand piano themselves, they lost no time once the prankster was identified in ordering the Harringtons to do so within 24 hours or face a fine.

However, when the Harringtons arrived at the sandbar, a stranger had already come with a crew to salvage the apparently ruined instrument, recounts a subsequent Miami Herald story. Under maritime law, it was clearly the right of salvager Carl Bentulan to take the abandoned property, says Lynn Mitchell, the owner of the rig and crew hired by Bentulan to get the piano.

Bentulan is a musician and day trader who was persuaded by his 10-year-old son to make the rescue trip.

Initially less concerned about the situation, officials with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission became testier when the grand piano was promptly replaced on the sandbar by a table set for two with a bottle of wine at the ready and a chef statue standing by, explains yet another Miami Herald article about the "piano bar" phenomenon. The individual responsible for the new installation is unknown.

"The bottom line is that this is completely against the law,'' spokesman Jorge Pino tells the newspaper. "People caught doing it will be arrested.''

Earlier he had referred to the piano as an intended "art project" rather than mere littering.

Meanwhile, a standoff continues between the Harringtons and the Bentulans concerning the ownership of the piano. There's no word yet on whether litigation will result.

Additional coverage:

Mayo on the Side (Sun-Sentinel): "Biscayne Bay piano: Art or trash?"

WSVN-TV: "Sandbar's piano out, picnic scene in"

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