Skip to comments.Boat owners say they were fearful during Coast Guard search
Posted on 09/22/2005 2:42:37 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Two of the Moss Landing Harbor residents who were the subjects of random boat searches during Labor Day Weekend say their experiences were closer to armed invasions than the friendly "safety inspections" characterized by U.S. Coast Guard officials.
Both residents said search crews entered the harbor in inflatable boats with machine guns mounted on their bows. Then, carrying M-16 rifles, they approached residents and boarded and searched their boats in the name of safety and "homeland security."
One resident, who asked not to be identified for fear or retribution, said his experience was "very intimidating, very frightening."
"To me it reeks of Nazi Germany and the death squads in Argentina," he said. "I don't want my name on their list."
Scott Jones, a live-aboard resident who was searched, said there has been talk in the harbor about contacting the American Civil Liberties Union, but he first wants to hear further from the Coast Guard about its future intentions.
Lt. Mark Warren of the Monterey Coast Guard Station said he has heard mostly positive response to the operation, but may rethink future actions given current criticisms.
"We take lessons and learn from these types of operations. If the public is genuinely distasteful of it, we might not do it," he said. "I'm not saying we won't, but I'm not saying we will."
In addition to trying to ensure the safety of boats on the bay during the holiday weekend, Warren said, the operation was part of an effort to increase the public's awareness of the Coast Guard's role as a law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security. He said the public might have been surprised to see weaponry that is now standard issue to all Homeland Security forces.
"I, as a U.S. citizen, am highly offended by that," said Jones, who is accustomed to Coast Guard boardings when he sails. "When a sheriff's deputy drives down the road or a CHP officer drives down the road and I see them, I'm aware of his job, and not because he's pulled me over and put a gun to my head.
"The Coast Guard's needs would be better served by an advertising campaign," he said, "rather than bullying people in their bedrooms at 10:30 at night."
Jones said he and his wife were sleeping when they were awakened by knocking on the side of the boat.
He went to the deck and was confronted by two armed officers asking if they could come aboard. Thinking something had happened in the harbor that the officers needed to talk to him about, Jones acquiesced.
"It seemed a little unreasonable at 10:30 at night," he said, "but it was the middle of the night and I was half asleep, so I said 'OK.' At this point, I looked out and saw six to eight officers (on the dock) and all appeared armed."
The officers boarded his boat and quickly spread out beyond the immediate deck without invitation, saying they were conducting a safety inspection.
"I can say with all certainly that what they did was not a safety inspection or in any way related to a safety inspection," he said. The officers demanded access to the bilge, saying they wanted to make sure the boat wasn't taking on water.
"This was highly suspect," Jones said. "If you're on board, you'd know if you were taking on water."
When Jones showed them the bilge, the officers repeatedly, and with increasing forcefulness, demanded to know if there were other accesses to the bilge. They also "demanded" the driver's licenses of everyone on board.
Increasingly upset by the nature of the search, Jones asked for the officers' authority and justification. One officer read to him from a federal code authorizing the search.
"It was either the Patriot Act or homeland security,"Jones said.
Warren said the officers would not have cited the Patriot Act because it affords the Coast Guard no additional authority.
Jones conceded he may have heard "homeland security" and registered "Patriot Act," but still feels the search was unwarranted and in a gray area of the law at best.
"I wouldn't question their professionalism, but I do question their motive and their authority," he said. "To me, it sounds like something that an ACLU lawyer would just tear apart."
Coast Guard officials say they are authorized by maritime law to board and search vessels on U.S. waters, including waters that lead to U.S. waters, to enforce federal laws.
Warren said the officers were attempting to ensure the safety and compliance of docked boats by checking for oily water in their bilges and that their sanitation devices were in locked position. Some searches were conducted at night in an effort to catch boats before they went onto the bay for the weekend.
The second boat owner who spoke to The Herald said his boat was searched after he challenged officers who were searching other boats, at 10:30 p.m. Sept. 2, and during the morning on following days. Told they were acting as Homeland Security officers, he asked what they were protecting the harbor from.
"Terrorists," he said he was told by the officers, who exhorted him to "remember the Cole," referring to the October 2000 attack by terrorists on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors.
"The only terrorists down here are you guys," he told them. "You're scaring the hell out of me with that machine gun."
While Warren was noncommittal about future searches, he said it is important for the public to know the Coast Guard's presence will be increased.
"The Coast Guard's focus on homeland security has increased our presence on the water and will continue to increase our presence simply because that's what Congress is wanting us to do right now," he said. "The concern at the congressional level about the security of ports is pretty high."
And by the way, thank you for your service.
I suspect that you would change your tune if a dozen uniformed officers armed with automatic weapons and a vehicle mounting a belt fed machine gun banged on your door and demanded to search your home in the middle of the night; officers, I might add, who have the authority to confiscate your home and everything in it or completely destroy it in the process of a "Search" and leave you standing in the street in your pajamas.
No warrant or probable cause required.
That is the authority the Coast Guard has over live-aboard boaters. There is no recourse, no appeal.
And this is the way it will be as long as the US enforces it's right to maintain borders. Many people forget that a navigable waterway is a border. The rules are different on the border. If you want the 4th amendment live on land. Post 274 had the correct idea.
Thanks for the ping!
They aren't entering your house. That has nothing to do with this Coast Guard article.
Yes, that is the authority the Coast Guard has, and has had for many, many years. Notice how rarely it is ever the subject of a news story in even the leftist papers like this one.
Do you know the reasoning for not applying 4th amendment protections to these searches?
The USCG considers your boat, even a docked live-aboard in a marina, to be a "conveyance" and not a home. As a "conveyance" it is (in their eyes) a potential smuggler etc. They are quite free and easy about coming aboard any damn time they please, without a warrant or permission.
That explains it all.
This is insane! How does checking for oily water protect us from terrorists? Either its a safety inspection or a homeland security inspection. The two ain't the same! And I hardly think a safety inspection has to be done in the middle of the night. Thanks George Bush!
Nope. See my last about a boat being a "Conveyance" not a home. NO warrant needed, as the USCG or ICE will gladly tell you, at gun point.
At gunpoint in the middle of the night?
I can believe that. I wouldn't go out on the water after such a rousting either.
I agree. That orange chopper (or the white ship with the orange stripe) coming over the horizon while you are treading water is the best thing you will see in your life.
I don't understand the relevance of 274, but I do think that the government shouldn't have the right to cut up my home into little pieces looking for contraband because I didn't bow down low enough for some coastie and leave me with absolutely no recourse. I also think that officers of the government can be a little more polite to the people who pay their salaries. After all, they can afford to be when I'm standing on the dock in my pajamas and six young studs are covering me with their m16's.
A friend of mine had his boat destroyed by the Coast Guard drilling holes in the deck and breaking up the furniture, cutting down the rig and chopping up the mast looking for drugs that weren't there. Near as I can tell, his only offense was that he wasn't sufficiently respectful to the officer in charge of the boarding party. To add insult to injury, he was required to dispose of the derelict hulk at his own expense or face fines and possible jail time. Apparently, because they didn't find anything on the vessel, they didn't confiscate it. They gave it back to him.
He didn't even get an apology, but at least, they didn't put him in jail. In his case, not saying "Sir" cost him everything he had.
That's true, and that's the way it is, when you live aboard a "conveyance" (as the legal beagles call our boats.)
I don't like it, but it's a fact of life.
It's not so much the matter of what sort of "conveyance" it is. It is a border control issue. The area between the shore and 12 miles out is "the border". Anything in there is "on the border". It really is just that simple.
Are you (or anybody else) arguing that we should soften the borders and deny these powers to the Coast Guard?
Eject! Eject! Eject! Bump.
Yep, that would suck. It happened more often during the Reagan "zero tolerance" days. Usually the USCG were pretty decent, it was Customs who were the aholes with the drills.
But what can you do about it? Personally, I "say sir." It ain't worth my boat getting drilled and dismantled.
Now, if I did "say sir," and they wrecked my boat....my pride and joy....all bets might be off. Nuff said.
And if you step foot in an airport, then the rules are different. And if you drive your vehicle on a highway, then the rules are different. And if you carry "too much" cash, then the rules are different. And if a policeman asks for your name, you do NOT have the right to remain silent.
Yes, the rules are different and changing all the time. But not for the better.