Sea marshals, like sky marshals, protecting San Francisco Bay ports : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Sea marshals, like sky marshals, protecting San Francisco Bay ports By Nina Wu Of The Examiner Staff

Using the crew's nationality, the last port of call and the cargo carried, sea marshals for the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI are escorting high-risk ships in and out of the Port of San Francisco.

"The purpose of escorts is to stymie any potential problems caused by terrorists," said Larry Hareth, captain of the Port of San Francisco. More than 40 sea marshals -- working in teams of two to six -- will be escorting the highest-risk ships in and out of port from 12 miles away, and deadly force will be used if necessary.

All vessels entering West Coast ports are now required to give 96-hours prior notice (instead of 24-hours), provide the identity and names of all persons on board, information on the cargo they are carrying and the last port of call.

About 150 reservists from the Bay Area have been called to active duty, with many of them filling in as sea marshals.

Michael Grogan, a retired captain from the Millbrae Police Department who was called up from the reserves, said he loves his new role.

"It's opened a whole new world to me," he said. "It's similar to what air marshals would do, taking control of the ships so they don't go running into a bridge."

During its regular duty -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- the Coast Guard focuses on search-and-rescue missions, snatching wayward boaters and surfers from the Bay's freezing waves, enforcing marine environmental protection rules and patrolling the waters.

Though most people think of the Coast Guard as the "nice guys in white hats," the marshals are armed and will use weapons if necessary.

Coast Guardsman (second-class petty officer) Ryan Warnke, 22, said the unit will take over a ship if necessary. "If it comes to it, we'll relieve the crew and radio in for backup," he said.

So far, there have been no mishaps. He's never had to pull his gun.

Warnke and five other sea marshals were picked up by a Coast Guard cutter at Pier 35 Thursday after escorting a large cruise ship -- The Westerdam from Rotterdam -- into the Bay.

Warnke volunteered to be a sea marshal after a six-month tour in the Middle East, assisting the Navy with catching oil smugglers in Iraq.

About 30 vessels enter and leave San Francisco's port daily, said Capt. Hareth. They are tracked via a satellite system monitored by the Coast Guard.

As of Thursday, there had been no credible maritime threats, though the Golden Gate Bridge received several bomb threats shortly after the attacks.

Capt. Tim Sullivan, group commander for the Coast Guard crew stationed on Yerba Buena Island, said he wasn't yet aware what changes would occur due to the newly established Office of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard will increase its presence, but there haven't been any other major changes.

Certainly, watching the coastline will now be more important than ever. The Coast Guard's motto is semper paratus, meaning "always ready."

"Our job hasn't really changed," Sullivan said. "We're doing what we've been doing all along."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 12, 2001

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