Harbor police: Keeping a key oil port secure

Officers Mitchell Hohensee and Scott Bynam on patrol in their 17-foot open patrol boat powered by a single 150-hp outboard. Port Fourchon is the most important base on the Gulf of Mexico for vessels serving the offshore oil industry.

The Port Fourchon Harbor Police jurisdiction extends 28 miles from Larose, La., along Bayou Lafourche past Golden Meadow and Leeville, to the sea buoy, three miles from the mouth of Belle Pass at Port Fourchon, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Port Fourchon is the busiest oil industry port in the United States. It provides safe harbor for commercial fishing vessels and a bustling recreational fishing community.

“The main duty of the Water Patrol is to make sure everything in the port keeps operating, and safely, and to make sure that industry keeps running,” said Water Patrolman Mitchell Hohensee. The department has a broad reach, extending from homeland security issues to debris removal. Between these extremes, it enforces environmental pollution regulations, deters crimes, responds to land- and water-based emergencies and monitors channel depths and more.

In January, the Harbor Police conducted a successful two-day boat chase and search for a Baton Rouge fugitive. But most days, Hohensee and Patrol Officer Scott Bynum conduct a general patrol of Port Fourchon in a 17-foot boat, looking for anything that might be amiss and showing a presence in the harbor.

In February, at Leeville, Sgt. Troy Dufrene and Hohensee launched a 28-foot Gravois patrol boat, an acquisition obtained with Department of Homeland Security funding. Harbor Police Chief Jon Callais and Port Commissioner Jimmy Guidry joined them.

Sgt. Troy Dufrene and Officer Mitchell Hohensee.

The object of the boat ride was to determine the navigable breadth of the bayou at Leeville between shrimp boats, moored three abreast, and the opposite shore. Bargemen had complained that the boats were choking the channel.

The consensus aboard the patrol boat was that 75-foot shrimp boats moored stern-in were more of a problem but still legal. Guidry was going to recommend to the Port Commission Board that the ordinance be amended to include the wording “not to impede the flow of traffic.”

“We do pretty much anything a normal police department would handle,” said Dufrene.

The harbor police take their homeland security role seriously.

“This is a very diverse port, so many different nationalities (are) represented,” Dufrene said, referring to the global and ethnic reach of the oil industry. “We deal with so many different cultures. We are the local police. We are the first line of defense against domestic terrorism.”

Above: Sgt. Dufrene and  Officer Hohensee with Port Commissioner Jimmy Guidry and Police Chief Jon Callais, checking the width of the Bayou Lafourche channel at Leeville to determine if barge tows can navigate safely between moored boats and the opposite bank.  Above: the 28-footer is set up for light towing duties.  
Left: The newest patrol vessel is a 28-foot Gravois launch powered by two 225-hp outboards.
By Professional Mariner Staff