Coast Guard stops illegal S.C. charter boat

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — A Coast Guard law enforcement team stopped an illegal charter boat operation Nov. 15, 2013, after a vessel captain unlawfully took seven paying passengers on a four-day roundtrip charter cruise from Charleston to Savannah, Ga.

The vessel was returning from the last portion of the cruise, an all-day voyage on the Intracoastal Waterway, when a boarding team from Coast Guard Station Charleston stopped the illegal charter trip.

The operator of the charter vessel previously had a Coast Guard-issued captain’s license, but it expired in May 2013 and was never renewed.

In addition to the captain operating with an expired license, the vessel did not have a valid Certificate of Inspection, which is required for all commercial voyages with more than six passengers.

The names of the vessel and the captain are not currently being released due to the ongoing investigation.

“The Coast Guard is dedicated to reducing loss of life, injuries, and accidents on U.S. waterways,” said Capt. Ric Rodriguez, commander of Coast Guard Sector Charleston. “Illegal operators put lives at risk by sidestepping safety requirements. The public can help stop these illegal and dangerous activities by asking excursion vessel captains to produce valid original Coast Guard credentials and Coast Guard Certificates of Inspection on inspected vessels.”

The operation of a charter vessel without the required vessel documents and operator license is a violation of federal law, and if caught, captains can be subject to criminal or civil liability up to $40,000 per violation. The regulations are in place to help ensure the safety of passengers. Illegal charter boats are typically recreational vessels and are generally operated by a person without the required Coast Guard-issued captain’s license.

Coast Guard-issued captain’s licenses demonstrate that the captain of a commercial vessel has met minimum proficiency requirements in navigation and seamanship rules. A paying passenger cannot be assured of the captain’s competency when the captain does not possess a valid captain’s license. The Coast Guard advises the public to ask boat captains to produce his or her original Coast Guard license.

If the boat is carrying more than six passengers, it is required to be inspected by the Coast Guard, and the Certificate of Inspection should be displayed in an area accessible to passengers. The Certificate of Inspection shows a vessel has met the minimum Coast Guard safety standards in regard to fire-extinguishing systems, manning, vessel de-watering capabilities, and life saving and navigation equipment requirements. It also sets the maximum number of passengers the vessel can carry. Many of the vessels operated illegally do not meet the minimum required federal standards for hull construction, stability, machinery, wiring, safety railings, and navigation equipment.

If the public wants to verify a captain’s license or the inspected status of a vessel carrying more than six passengers, or to report an illegal charter operation, they are encouraged to call Coast Guard Sector Charleston at 843-740-7050.

By Professional Mariner Staff