A spate of laser incidents targeting Washington State Ferries and Coast Guard crews in Puget Sound culminated with a $100,000 civil penalty levied on a ferry passenger, who flashed a high-powered blue laser into a ferry pilothouse, injuring the master and chief mate.
Coast Guard officers investigating the Oct. 22, 2015 incident zeroed in on Mark Raden of Freeland, Wash., as the suspect who pointed the laser at the pilothouse of the passing 362’x83’x18’ ferry Tokitae. At the time Raden was aboard the 328’x78’8”x16’6” ferry Kitsap, transiting between Mukilteo and Clinton, the Coast Guard said.
“Firing a laser at a vessel is extremely dangerous and directly interferes with the safe movement of commercial vessels and the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct search and rescue operations,” said Captain Joe Raymond, Captain of the Port, Sector Puget Sound. “I encourage individuals who witness laser attacks on commercial vessels and Coast Guard small boats and aircraft to call 911.”
Raymond levied the $100,000 penalty as an initial step toward the Coast Guard seeking civil penalties for violation of a safety and security zone, and interference with the safe operation of the Tokitae while it transited between Mukilteo and Clinton. The final civil penalty amount will be determined by a Coast Guard hearing officer in Arlington, Va.
Maritime laser incidents have been on the rise in Washington State, the Coast Guard said. On April 20 at around 8:30 p.m., the crew of the Bellingham Coast Guard station’s 45’ medium response boat was hit by a green laser while underway on a training mission near Squalicum Harbor.
The crew returned to the station because of medical concerns. Unable to carry on watchstanding duties, they had to be replaced with a backup crew. The incident also forced cancellation of operations for a helicopter crew from the Port Angeles Air Station, who were to be training with the boat crew that night.
The local harbor security office and Watcom County police responded to the location near Boulevard Park in Bellingham, but were unable to locate any suspects.
“Boat and helicopter operators can be temporarily blinded by green laser lights during night operations,” said Cmdr. Brian Meier, Sector Puget Sound Response Department head. “There have been several laser light incidents in Washington involving not only our crews, but commercial operators as well. As a safety authority, we are very concerned about these incidents causing accidents or delaying emergency responses.”
In Puerto Rico, Coast Guard aircrews reported being hit with lasers three times on April 20 and 25, including on one mission to medevac an injured woman from an old sugar pier on Aguadilla Bay. Lt. Hunter Blue, the aircraft commander on that flight, said he was “in disbelief” that someone was harassing the crew during the dangerous litter lift April 25.
Two other crews from the Borinquen air station said their HH-65 Dolphin helicopters were lit up multiple times during incidents in the same area. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a criminal offense under federal law – offenders can be subject to fines up to $250,000 and five years in prison. Coast Guard officials said they are working with federal and local law enforcement to find suspects.