DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — The United State’s Coast Guard Sector Mobile is expanding its awareness and enforcement of illegal charter operations in the Gulf of Mexico with the new Gulf Coast Illegal Charter Task Force (GCIC).
The GCIC is comprised of the Coast Guard Sector Mobile and all its subunits, Coast Guard Investigative Services (CGIS), Department of Justice (Northern District of Florida, Southern District of Alabama, Southern District of Mississippi), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Orange Beach Police Department, Gulf Shores Police Department, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
USCG met in October of 2022 with state and local agencies to discuss the priorities and mission for the 2023 recreational boating season. The task force is aimed at trying to stop and combat illegal operations from the Florida Panhandle to Gulfport, Miss.
Investigators at the Coast Guard Sector Mobile office said illegal charters have been a growing problem in the last few years.
“Illegal charter activity has increased steadily over the previous 3 years. In response, our office has leveraged partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and increased interactions with the public to track down violators and ensure as many people as possible know how to spot illegal charters. We do this by sending out information fliers and press releases about what to look for when booking a charter.”Lt. Joshua French, Investigating officer at Coast Guard Sector Mobile
USCG recently fined one habitual offender of the Passenger Vessel Safety Act for 2022 with $98,500 in civil penalties. USCG said the boat operator was giving chartered trips around Destin without the proper licensing, safety measures, or inspections.
These fines stemmed from locals around Destin reporting the illegal charter to authorities. WKRG News 5 asked if they had plans to give penalties to any other offenders during the 2022 season.
“The Coast Guard cannot comment on active investigations or cases that are still open or remain open from 2022. Every case is unique and the Coast Guard strives to investigate and adjudicate each case as expeditiously as their circumstances may allow.”Lt. Joshua French, Investigating officer at Coast Guard Sector Mobile
USCG plans to unveil more about the task force in March but outlined its purpose to WKRG News 5.
“The purpose of this task force is to establish lines of communication amongst involved law enforcement agencies and to further reduce violations of the Passenger Vessel Safety Act. In addition, Sector Mobile is working to educate the public on how to spot an illegal charter and the risks associated with those operators.”Lt. Joshua French, Investigating officer at Coast Guard Sector Mobile
If members of the public anywhere along the Gulf Coast have seen or suspect illegal charter activity, they can leave anonymous tips at https://www.uscg.mil/cgis or contact Coast Guard Sector Mobile directly at (833) MOB-USCG (662-8724) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coast Guard urges the public to exercise caution and be able to answer 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?