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."
Without boats, over two thirds of the earth's surface would just be wasted...
The Coast Guard has patrolled Lake Michigan and Chicago harbors almost forever.
bumpity bump bump!!!
Two 47' boat crews from my base spent all night Monday on this tragic case.
They were assisiting our Sister Station at Winchester Bay
I heard most of it on my marine radio.
Large wave capsized boat, survivor says- The Oregonian- Sept. 23, 2005
Sydney Mae II: - Inflated life raft was washed away from those struggling in sea
All afternoon, Jim Parker listened as warnings crackled over the radio telling the charter boat skipper not to try to make it over the Umpqua River bar, but the Sydney Mae II steered steadily toward the 15-foot swells until it was too late.
A wall of water slammed into the 38-foot boat, pitching Parker, Capt. Richard Oba and three other passengers overboard in the darkness Monday night.
The group had cut short its 15-hour tuna fishing excursion and was heading back to Winchester Bay after U.S. Coast Guard officials broadcast alerts that the river bar had closed as plunging breakers buffeted the jetty there.
Small commercial and recreational vessels were directed to head south to Charleston to calmer seas. The turbulent waters at the bar, where the river meets the ocean, make it tricky to navigate, especially at low tide when the flow out is at its fastest.
The captain initially told passengers that they would have transportation back to Winchester Bay when they reached Charleston, said Parker, a 59-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran from Springfield and an avid fisherman.
Now, as they drew closer to the river bar, Oba seemed to think the ocean had quieted down and he could make it safely across, Parker said.
"He said, 'I could probably make it,' " Parker recalled. "I said, 'The Coast Guard says it's closed.' We're getting closer, I stand up. We are 200 yards, maybe 100 yards out, and I turn around and I see this wave above me. With the deck lights, it was really illuminated. It looked like a big yellow wall. It would have taken anyone."
In an instant, the boat was on its side, full of water, Parker said. Only Oba wore a life jacket. Parker's friend, Bill Harris, 66, of Springfield, had on a floatation coat, Parker said.
Parker swam from the small cabin on the boat's flying bridge, where he had been with Oba. He didn't know what happened to the captain, but saw Ginger Strelow, the 64-year-old office manager for Oba's Pacific Pioneer Charters, float to the surface. He grabbed her.
Then another wave hit. He lost his grip, and Strelow was gone. The boat was sinking. Parker's foot got caught in the outrigger, a support that extends beyond the boat and is often used for balance. He went under.
"I thought I was going to drown right there," he said.
When Parker surfaced, he saw the charter boat's lifeboat still in its case, but its handle was caught in the outrigger.
"I'm pulling on this thing," Parker said. "I'm screaming, 'I can't get it open.' I could see the next wave coming" -- and then he thought of a friend, Patrick "Sully" Sullivan, who had called the Sydney Mae II earlier to warn it away from the bar. Parker hoped Sullivan was watching for the charter boat.
"I'm hoping Sully is up on the hill because the Coast Guard thought we were going to Charleston. There wasn't supposed to be anyone out there," he said.
Finally, with a loud boom -- which onlookers at the Umpqua River Lighthouse reported hearing -- the self-inflating raft erupted from its case. But just as quickly, a wave broke over it and carried it out of reach, Parker said.
Harris floated nearby, his floatation coat just barely keeping him above water, Parker said. Parker swam back to the boat, praying for help. Then, 3 feet away, he spotted a life jacket floating in front of him.
It was tangled, but he managed to get his arm through it and swim back to Harris.
"I grabbed ahold of him and hung on. Another wave broke," Parker said. "I lost him, and I never saw him again." Parker thinks Harris may have broken his ribs when the first wave slammed him into the boat's steering wheel.
Then Parker heard Oba call out to swim toward him, and the two swam for shore until Parker told him he couldn't swim any more. Oba told him there was a strobe light and a whistle in the life jacket.
Parker turned on the flashing light, and not long after, a Coast Guard boat appeared and plucked both men from the water.
Forty-five minutes after the boat had gone down, Oba and Parker became the only survivors of the wreck. The bodies of Harris and Strelow washed up later on the beach miles south of the bar.
The fifth person aboard, Paul Turner, 76, of Boise remains missing. Parker said the last time he saw him, Turner was asleep in the cabin below.
Oba hasn't returned telephone calls for comment, but his wife, Sydney Oba, said her husband was bound for Charleston as instructed when the boat capsized.
Directed away from bar
Oba was licensed to carry as many as six passengers on his boat. The Sydney Mae II was an uninspected passenger vessel, meaning it didn't require regular inspections but had to meet federal safety regulations that require safety equipment and life preservers on board, said Coast Guard Lt. Michael Block.
Parker is recuperating at home with bruises and scratches. He has a 21-foot fishing boat and often goes fishing himself at Winchester Bay. He also lived in Hawaii for seven years and said he's no stranger to high seas.
He had joined the captain on the bridge that evening because exhaust fumes from the boat were irritating his asthma when he was below the deck, he said.
"I heard several times on the radio that Winchester Bay was closing and the waves were building," Parker said.
About 18 miles out, as the sun was setting, Parker recalled that Oba said it looked like the ocean was settling down and he'd rather go to Winchester Bay. At seven miles out, Parker said Oba talked to the Coast Guard again, and Parker heard an official tell the skipper to go to Charleston.
One mile out, salmon fisherman Patrick Sullivan, who had gone up to the Umpqua River Lighthouse to look for the Sydney Mae II, talked to Oba on the phone. "It's on the speaker phone and Sully tells him, 'Don't cross the bar. It's very bad. Do not cross the bar,' " Parker said.
Parker kept waiting for Oba to turn the boat toward Charleston, but he said the Sydney Mae II continued at a fast idle toward the bar, where 14- to 15-foot waves were breaking nearly the full width of the entrance.
At one point, Parker said, he and Oba talked about the wreck of the Taki Tooo, the charter boat that went down off the jetty in Garibaldi in 2003 after a wave rolled it over, killing 11 people.
"He said the ones who had life jackets were the ones who survived that trip," Parker recalled.
Parker planned to ask for a life jacket when they got closer to the bar, but said he continued to believe that any minute Oba would turn the boat south. Oba hadn't explained where the life jackets and life boat were on the boat at the start of the trip, he said.
Before a vessel gets under way, federal regulations require the captain to provide a public safety briefing to make sure passengers know how to properly use life-saving equipment. Violators face license suspension and fines.
Parker said he expects to go back out to sea again, but next time he'll take all the safety precautions that he missed this time and caution everyone else to do the same.
"I want to warn everyone to have life jackets and a radio and everything they can to make them secure if something happens," he said. "Because if it does, it will happen so fast you won't have time to think or do what you should have done before it happened."
"Seems the jackboots are out in all their goose-stepping glory..."
Northwest Coast Guard Members Headed To Gulf
ASTORIA, Ore. -- U.S. Coast Guard members from Washington and Oregon are preparing to deploy to the Gulf Coast in anticipation of Hurricane Rita support operations.
Thirty-one members from Coast Guard Air Stations in Astoria and North Bend will be deploying Friday afternoon to Sacramento, Calif. They will remain there and be ready to deploy to the areas hit by the hurricane.
Air Station Astoria is sending four helicopter pilots, four flight mechanics and two rescue swimmers. Air Station North Bend will be sending five helicopter pilots, eight flight mechanics and two rescue swimmers.
The response comes after 58 Coast Guard members from Oregon and Washington have already been deployed for Hurricane Katrina relief. Nearly 30 members remain in the affected region for Katrina relief.
My Husband, former Petty Coast Guard Officer, I'm very Proud his service. What the Coast Guard does for America, makes them, true Heroes! God Bless them all.
"Seems the jackboots are out in all their goose-stepping glory..."
Maritime Disaster Drill Planned- Kitsap Sun- Sept. 23, 2005
Simulated terrorist attacks and emergency response exercises on Puget Sound this weekend may cause Bainbridge residents to sit up and take notice.
The marine disaster drill, funded by a $2 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, involves the Port of Seattle, Washington State Ferries, the Coast Guard and several local fire departments and marine agencies.
The exercise is scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, but on Saturday, pyrotechnical activity near Eagle Harbor in preparation for the drill may catch Bainbridge residents' attention.
Thank you so very much for your insights!!!
Our Customs Service is also exempt from our Constitutional safeguards concerning the 4th Amendment but there was a restriction on how far from the boarders or coasts were free to operate. It wouldnt take much for this to be expanded, and one customs agent with a squad of other LEO personnel would still be covered if the Customs agent was in charge.
Coasties are a Godsend!
Different sense of conveyance. Your car inside of the USA is not a likely smuggler. Crossing the border from Mexico in your car, it will be searched. Your boat near the coasts is considered a potential smuggler 24/7.
"You have to go out, you don't have to come back!"
"Seems the jackboots are out in all their goose-stepping glory..."
Tonk, what are they talking about??? The Coast Guard saved many many lives.
My boy, Mike, (Coast Guard Petty Officer) says his unit averaged 25 "saves" or more per day, 12 hours a day, for 6 days during the Katrina rescue. And he was only one of many rescue units.
Derogatory comments about our military are beyond obscene.
I feel this country is tearing itself apart right before our eyes in my lifetime. Thanks, liberals.
i'd be "interested" to know the sources of the complaints. AND where the story originated.
IF it was the Washington COMpost (popularly know here as the DAILY WORKER), the NY SLIMES or any other similar "mainstream paper", i'd be DUBIOUS, as i've caught them in too MANY LIES!
EVERY water outside the USA that's not landlocked leads to US waters.
Does this mean the Coast Guard can exercise their authority off the nationally recognized waters of France?
Besides that, conducting "safety inspections" at 10:30 PM after everyone is in bed asleep?
This sounds like abuse of authority whether it's strictly legal or not.
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