MULTI-AGENCY TASK FORCE DISRUPTS ILLEGAL VESSEL OPERATOR

TAMPA, Fla. – The Coast Guard, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission disrupted an illegal fishing business operating fromf Palmetto, Fla., Aug. 10.

Investigators from Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, Fla., and FWC pursued a report from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office that Michael L. Henry, 55, a resident of Palmetto, was illegally taking paying passengers on fishing trips.

The 20-foot fishing vessel, operated by Henry, spent the morning underway on the Manatee River with one passenger aboard. The passenger, was an undercover officer from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. A Coast Guard boarding team from Station Cortez, Fla., boarded the vessel for a safety inspection. During the boarding, Henry stated that he was fishing recreationally and the Coast Guard crew left Henry and his passenger to fish.

Henry returned the vessel and his passenger to the dock at Cut’s Edge Marina later that day, where law enforcement officers from the Coast Guard, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and FWC were waiting to confront Henry after he accepted $250 plus an additional $40 tip for his services. The Coast Guard and FWC issued Henry a combined citation totaling $2,065.00 for failing to have the required passenger vessel license and registration. Additionally, Henry may face criminal charges for providing a false statement to a law enforcement official.

To ensure the safety of passengers, Coast Guard regulations require each vessel carrying a passenger to have additional safety equipment as well as having a person holding a Merchant Mariner’s License direct the control of the vessel. To receive a Merchant Mariner’s License a person must demonstrate fundamental seamanship knowledge and skills through tests and experience, undergo a criminal background record review, pass a health exam, and participate in a drug and alcohol testing program among other requirements. Despite being difficult to earn, there are more than 1,510 properly licensed and professional Merchant Mariner’s located in the Tampa Bay area.

The Coast Guard along with local and state agencies actively investigates all reports of illegal passenger vessel operations, imposing civil or criminal penalties when necessary. In this case, through the teamwork of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, an illegal and unsafe passenger vessel operation was ended.

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