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."
It goes back way before prohibition.
The Coast Guard are Brave Courageous Heroes, some who do more in one day, than some here will ever do in their entire lives.
The history of the Coast Guard speaks for itself. The recent history in NO is proof. God Bless them!
Roger that. And how. Time to REACH FOR THE LOUD HANDLE. :-)
You can say that again ;~D
It's not the authority that bothers me, it's the way some of them use (Or abuse) it. I'm a law a abiding guy, mostly; certainly no threat to society Once I'm standing there in my bare feet, surrounded by armed public servants and it has been established that I'm not going to go berserk with a submachine gun, they should treat me with the respect I deserve, search the boat if they must, and let me get on with my business.
Even the man who is complaining couldn't question their professionalism. Which means they weren't treated in any harsh way.
Oh, absolutely. Respect flows both ways once someone offers it. Although I have to admit, at my age, I sometimes have a hard time saying "Sir" to someone young enough to be my grandson d;^)
Travis, I have great respect for your opinion, having read much of your good stuff over the years here.
Of course, CG boarding parties should not be seen to come across as Jackbooted thugs. I don't think that there are, or ever have been in any sort of institutional way. I happen to really honestly believe, that out of the thousands of boardings they do every DAY, that they conduct themselves in the most professional way possible, given whatever circumstances they are in.
I think there's a bad rap happening on this thread for the USCG, and I'll defend them. That is simply where I am.
Yes I'm sure those M-16s were securely holstered.
These were not smugglers they were regular people. This seems to be over the line in my book.
Not exactly. True... the 12 mile limit extends into any navigable water. Authority to board and inspect insde that line is absolute. That's just the way it is. The CG also can board any U.S. flagged vessel anywhere in the world, in international waters. Or... can board any vessel flagged in a country for whom we have a treaty granting authority to the USCG to conduct boardings. Treaties to this effect are in place with regard to most countries of So. America.
So this was not about the (tee hee) "Patriot act" but about revenue production.
I believe John Adams was a founding father too.
I've been boarded about a dozen times, and in almost every case the Coasties have been terrific. Polite, professional. Don't get an attitude with them, and no problem.
My bottom line is they are the guys who will pluck me from my raft, in the event of a calamity aboard the SV Escape Pod II.
I just hope that COs will go over some sort of "courtesy standards" to ensure no JBT treatment of American citizens, ever. Even if it is already rare. A few bad search cases get spread all over the waterfront and the internet, and it harms the USCG's interface with their "clients."
Any vessel in the Pacific or Atlantic between Cape Horn and Canada can be searched, regardless of flag. Period. It is done. And I'm not sorry about it: we're not patsies.
Usually, they call me sir! That's because I have a blue hull, Norfolk as a hailing port, a "military" length haircut etc. On the radio I answer in military "alpha tango" speak. By the time they board, we're already pals, usually.