Two Miami area boat owners are the first to be criminally convicted of repeatedly conducting illegal charter operations, and hit with steep fines for disregarding Coast Guard orders to stop.
In February Randy Postma, 71, of Davie, Fla., was sentenced by a federal judge to three years of probation, including six months of home confinement, and a criminal fine of $4,000 for operating his 147’x28’9” Golden Touch II as a commercial charter, in defiance of a Coast Guard captain of the port order to desist.
But Postma was not the first – nor by far the biggest punishment. That distinction went to Seth Allen Gissen, who was sentenced in January to a $96,000 fine, five years of probation, and a judge’s requirement that he stay off any vessel.
Gissen ran an unlicensed and uninspected party boat operation on his 60’x18’4”x4’6” Maritimo M60 convertible sportfish boat No Rules II, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern Florida and the Coast Guard.
With its large foredeck and accommodations the No Rules II was the scene of big parties, documented on social media. Complaints from Gissen’s neighbors, where he kept the boat at his home in a gated waterfront community, finally drew attention from local news media and Coast Guard officials, who issued their first warning to him in October 2017, followed by a captain of the port order directing him to cease commercial operations until he complied with all federal rules and regulations.
On Aug. 4, 2018, a Coast Guard boat crew spotted the No Rules II operating with what appeared to be an overload of about 50 passengers overload, and stopped the vessel. Coast Guard law enforcement agents determined that 11 male passengers had paid $5,500 to hire the boat for a bachelor party, according to court documents.
Seven days later on Aug. 11, a Coast Guard team saw the No Rules II on Biscayne Bay carrying 21 passengers and boarded once more. As they came alongside, the No Rules II began discharging its sewage holding tank, spraying onto the Coast Guard boat, according to a statement from one agent.
Gissen was not charged with that insult, although the agent’s court statement said he was seen standing at the controls. But within weeks a grand jury indicted him on charges of violating the captain of the port order, giving false statements to the Coast Guard and obstructing its investigation.
The No Rules II and Golden Touch II cases are the highest-profile prosecutions yet in the Coast Guard Seventh District’s aggressive campaign against unlicensed and illegal charter operations, which was spurred by two accidents when passengers died on illegal charters in Florida.
“These cases, as well as the recent deaths of passengers aboard the illegal charters Jaguar and Miami Vice, highlight the need for continued coordination between the Coast Guard, the passenger vessel industry, and local law enforcement,” Lt. Amy Midgett wrote in the March 14 Coast Guard Maritime Commons blog.
“Illegal operations by individuals who are either unaware of or avoiding U.S. laws and Coast Guard regulations governing operator credentialing requirements, vessel inspections, operational standards, and safety equipment pose serious safety concerns to the public and the environment, but also adversely impact the livelihood of legitimate operators who do comply with federal requirements.”
A team from the Coast Guard Station Miami Beach was at it again last weekend, using their 33’ special purpose craft-law enforcement vessel to terminate what officials called two illegal charters.
A 24’ pontoon boat was carrying seven passengers near Watson Island when it was stopped, and the operator cited for not having a valid certificate of inspection, not having a credentialed mariner in control while operating a small passenger vessel, not maintaining a drug and alcohol monitoring program for crew, and failing to have a valid stability letter.
It’s what has become a standard laundry list of violations levied by the Coast Guard when it finds illegal passenger operations. Those civil penalties can bring a maximum total of $42,394 in fines, according to Coast Guard officials. The Miami Beach team tagged another operator for those the next day, when they stopped a 32’ boat with 11 passengers on the Miami River, and then another pontoon boat carrying 13 passengers near Aventura, Fla, on Thursday.
As for the No Rules II, the boat is up for sale. Its brokerage listing on yachtworld.com quotes an asking price of $799,000.