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NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard imposed a civil penalty, Feb. 6, 2023, to a mariner found operating a charter vessel in violation of federal laws near Destin, Florida.
Coast Guard Station Destin boarding team members, Sector Mobile Marine Investigators and Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office officers conducted multiple boardings of the involved pontoon vessel over the past year after receiving tips from concerned members of the public.
Following an extensive investigation led by Coast Guard Sector Mobile’s Investigations Division, it was determined that on multiple occasions the operator of the vessel was in violation of 46 C.F.R. 176.100(a), failure to provide a Certificated of Inspection while carrying more than six passengers for hire, and of 33 C.F.R. 160.105, failure to comply with a Captain-of-the-Port Order. As a result, a Coast Guard Hearing Officer imposed a $98,364 civil penalty.
“Operators of illegal charters directly endanger our citizens," said Capt. Ulysses Mullins, Commander of Coast Guard Sector Mobile. "It is a top priority for Sector Mobile to ensure charter vessels operate safely and in full compliance with the law. The Coast Guard, along with our state and local law enforcement partners, will continue to educate the public and vigorously pursue those individuals who violate the statutory and regulatory requirements of the Passenger Vessel Safety Act.”
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.
The Coast Guard urges the public to exercise caution and consider these questions before taking a boat tour or chartering a vessel:
- Does the vessel have a credentialed master aboard? A credentialed master will have a license in a book that looks similar to a passport.
- If carrying more than six passengers, does the chartered vessel have a Certificate of Inspection issued by the Coast Guard? A vessel with a Certificate of Inspection will have a Coast Guard decal displayed on the outside of the vessel. If in doubt, ask the master or crew where the decal is located.
- If it is a bareboat charter rental (one without a crew provided), are you staying within the maximum of 12 passengers allowed plus the charterer? Are you given the opportunity to select a crew or provide your own crew in order to operate that vessel?
- Are you aware that when you charter a vessel, you, the charterer, are financially responsible for damages and any liability claims?
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions this could indicate a vessel being operated in a manner that is non-compliant with Federal laws and regulations established for the safe carriage of passengers, the boating community is urged to remain vigilant and report any suspicious operations to (251) 441-8993 or MobileSCC@uscg.mil.
For information regarding your boating operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector Mobile Investigations Division at SecMobileINV@uscg.mil.
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