DESTIN, Fla. — The Coast Guard-led Gulf Coast Illegal Charter (GCIC) Task Force terminated multiple voyages across the Gulf Coast through March and April for operating in violation of the Vessel Passenger Safety Act and regulations governing passenger vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard has announced.
According to the Coast Guard, on April 22, 2023, Sector Mobile and Coast Guard Station Destin enforcement officers boarded six charter vessels in Destin. They determined one was in violation of 46 C.F.R. 176.100(a) for failure to provide a Certificate of Inspection while carrying more than six passengers for hire and 46 C.F.R 15.515 (b) for not having a properly credentialed captain operating a small passenger vessel.
On March 11, 2023, the Coast Guard said it was notified by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Alabama Marine Resources Division, who boarded a charter fishing vessel operating in Orange Beach, Alabama, with eight passengers aboard. Coast Guard investigators, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement, are investigating the operator for possible violations of federal regulations governing passenger vessels and fisheries.
On March 23, 2023, a Coast Guard Station Gulfport boarding team and NOAA enforcement officers reportedly boarded a vessel in Biloxi, Mississippi, operating with 24 passengers. Coast Guard Sector Mobile investigators determined the operator was in violation of 46 C.F.R 15.515 (b) for not having a properly credentialed captain operating a small passenger vessel.
“The Coast Guard, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, will continue to actively pursue and enforce all applicable laws to ensure your time on the water is safe and enjoyable,” said Capt. Ulysses S. Mullins, Sector Mobile commander.
“We urge anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and a Merchant Mariner Credential. If the captain can’t produce their license, don’t get on the boat.”
The GCIC Task Force is comprised of over 10 partner agencies across the Gulf Coast that aim to combat illegal charter activity moving into the 2023 recreational boating season. In addition to the above incidents, the task force has terminated additional voyages and is actively investigating illegal charter operations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels may be subject to civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire operations. Charters that violate a captain-of-the-port order may be subject to civil penalties of $95,000 per violation.
Potential civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel include:
- Up to $7,846 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
- Up to $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.
- Up to $16,687 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over five gross tons.
- Up to $12,219 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing a vessel in service with more than six passengers for hire.