Coast Guard targeting illegal charters in Hawaiian Islands

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) crew patrols off the coast of Maui. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) crew patrols off the coast of Maui. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur)

HONOLULU — Operation Kapena Kohole brings Coast Guard and NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement partners together to curtail illegal boat charters within the Hawaiian Islands throughout the month of September.

The Coast Guard is dedicated to the prevention of loss of life, injuries and damage to property and the environment on U.S. waterways; in order to ensure passenger safety, there are laws and regulations that the Coast Guard enforces on commercial vessels and their operations.

“Coast Guard Sector Honolulu is conducting Operation Kapena Kohole alongside NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to target and prevent recent cases of sea turtle, monk seal, and dolphin harassment reported from beachgoers and waterborne tours,” said Chief Warrant Officer Omar Perez, Sector Honolulu’s command security officer.

The state’s various harbors and marinas house a large commercial charter boat fleet. Within these legitimate operators, illegal charters disguise themselves as alternatives for hire, threatening the safety of an unaware public.

Not possessing proper merchant mariner credentials or operating vessels not properly outfitted for commercial use poses significant risk to public safety and significant impact to the local economy. The Hawaiian Islands average 9.4 million annual visitors contributing over 16 billion dollars, accounting for 21% of the state’s economy.

The master of the vessel must have appropriate merchant mariners credentials in order to legally operate a vessel with passengers for hire. These credentials show that the operator has met certain proficiency requirements in navigation, seamanship, as well as steering and sailing rules.

“Passengers should refrain from employing charters and tours from captains who do not advertise Coast Guard certification or possess valid merchant mariner credentials,” said Perez. “The credentials must be present at all times on all voyages; the dangers from engaging with unlicensed captains can be life threatening.”

The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and their merchant mariner credentials are up to date. For larger charter boats, or those with more than six passengers, ask for a Coast Guard issued certificate of inspection.

Charter vessels must have a sufficient number of personal flotation devices and other required life saving equipment onboard at all times for all passengers and crew. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials or equipment, passengers should not get on the boat.

Owners and operators of illegal charter boats can face up to $27,500 in fines for illegal passenger for hire operations.

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