Coast Guard warns of legal repercussions in response to laser incidents

Buffalo – One of the laser strikes was reported to originate offshore the residential area of Moon Beach,New York. The latest incident occurred in the vicinity of Lakeside Park, located in Oswego, New York, from an unidentified vehicle. Attempts to locate the suspects remain ongoing.

The laser, which comes in various colors, illuminated the small boats numerous times, striking he crew in the eyes. Although no injuries were sustained, these types of actions are illegal and can cause severe effects to the crew’s safety and missions the U.S. Coast Guard conducts on a daily basis.

Laser pointers can cause great danger to small boat crews and aircrews due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. If a laser is shined in the eyes of any crew member on a Coast Guard vessel or aircraft, it negatively impacts the search and rescue missions they are conducting.

“In every instance that a U.S. Coast Guard small boat is observed on the water, they are either performing a mission, training, or transiting,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Kuperman, Commander, Sector Buffalo. “As with all emergency responders, the work they do is in the best interests of the public. When struck by a laser, they cannot perform their job, and may in fact have suffered eye injuries.”

Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony crime under title 18 U.S. Code, Section 39A, which states whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

A new law was passed in 2021 under the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act (CGAA) of 2020. The new law states that aiming a LASER Pointer at vessels is a violation under title 46 U.S. Code, Section 70014, which makes it unlawful to “cause the beam of a LASER pointer to strike a vessel operating on the navigable waters of the United States.’’ The offense carries civil and criminal (felony) penalties as well. The law was designed to protect mariners from LASER strikes and prohibits any person to illuminate a vessel, either public, commercial, or recreational.

Coast Guard Investigative Service Special Agents are working with local law enforcement to investigate the incidents. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact U.S. Coast Guard Sector Buffalo at 716-843-9391 or can make an anonymous report through CGIS Tips at the following CGIS TIPLINE website.

“Just as a citizen would not intentionally endanger an ambulance or a firetruck moving at high speed to provide urgent care, Coast Guard boat crews are responding to life-threatening situations on the water,” said Kuperman.

For more information about laser safety and the effects of an aircraft laser incident, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s Laser Safety Initative webpage.

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