Skip to comments.Gunboat scare a test for security
Posted on 07/16/2002 11:18:38 AM PDT by PJeffQ
Gunboat scare a test for security
False alarm sparks action by local maritime interests
BY TONY BARTELME
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The report hit Coast Guard headquarters at about 2 p.m. Monday: four 40-foot gunboats heading fast toward Charleston.
Coast Guard officials, on high alert since Sept. 11, quickly phoned the Navy.
Were any of their vessels in the area? No.
The Coast Guard broadcasted a radio alert. Would the boats please respond?
That's when things got serious.
Within minutes, the Coast Guard had a helicopter and a boat unit sweeping the harbor.
The Charleston County Sheriff's Office and the city of Charleston Police Department launched helicopters. The Charleston and North Charleston police departments and the Department of Natural Resources all launched their boats.
Turns out the four gunboats were real - but had nothing to do with al-Qaida. A Navy unit was in the area doing long-range navigation maneuvers, said Cmdr. Gary Merrick of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Charleston. But nobody knew that until a Coast Guard official who happened to be at a marina on the Isle of Palms noticed the gunboats tied up there and went over and asked the crews around 3:40 p.m.
"It would have been nice to know that they were in the area, but looking back, it was a great opportunity," he said. The Coast Guard and local maritime interests recently formed a "volunteer port security force," a program to use professional mariners to identify unusual activities in area waterways.
"We're trying to reach out to the professional maritime community and make them the eyes and ears of the port, and the system worked phenomenally well," Merrick said. "They're supposed to report something that's not right, and you don't see (four gunboats) every day."
Bob Bennett, a consultant for the Charleston Branch Pilots Association, came up with the volunteer port security force.
"We're trying to create a kind of maritime terrorist watch," he said, adding that the program began July 1. Participants include harbor pilots, tug boat operators and other local mariners. Vessels in the program will fly a yellow flag with the words "Don't Tread on Me."
Bennett said the Navy boats weren't marked and apparently weren't flying their colors as they headed toward the harbor.
"That wasn't so swift," he said. "They could have been from anywhere."
He said an operator on one of the pilot boats, a Navy veteran, made the initial report. "The Coast Guard did some quick checks, and when the Navy said there were no known persons in the area, everyone went general quarters. The whole place freaked out. It wasn't a drill, but the system worked."
A spokesman for the gunboat unit in Virginia could not be reached. Officials from the Naval Weapons Station referred questions to the Coast Guard.
After Sept. 11, the Coast Guard and state and local law enforcement agencies participated in an intense training exercise to respond to terrorist attacks from the water. It's a pilot program that may be duplicated in other ports. "We had a real good response time," said Dana Valentine of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.
This picture was on the main page at Charleston.net
Apparently I missed it too.
I love it.
The Navy no-commented the story... and there was no caption for the picture on Charleston.net, I just assumed it was a picture of the supposed "gunboat".
The author's email address is email@example.com if you want to ask him about it, they also have a military reporter on staff, Terry Joyce. Bartelme is the ports reporter.
Stay Safe !
Stay Safe !
I'm in the Navy and I work here at the Nuke school in Charleston. There is the old main base, which shut down in the early 90's, and the Weapons Station, which houses the Nuke school and various other small commands. Save for the occasional supply ship (AO or AE), there are no ships here. The Coast Guard has a post near here, but I have no idea what they do.
Interesting factoid--shortly after 9/11, 20/20 wanted to do an expose on the "faulty security of the nation's military bases." They picked Charleston (an easy target, I admit) and tried to hire a boat to get them as close to the Weapon Station as possible. The locals they were trying to hire alerted the military, who sent people out to question them. Oddly enough, this "report" never aired.
I saw this and thought about you. Is this the kind of work you are doing?