The US Coast Guard-led Task Force Gulf Coast Illegal Charter (GCIC) cracked down on several voyages along the Gulf Coast in March and April for violations of the Vessel Passenger Safety Act and passenger ship regulations.
The GCIC Task Force is made up of over 10 partner agencies working together to combat illegal charter activity as the 2023 recreational boating season approaches.
One such incident occurred on March 11, 2023, when the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Alabama Marine Resources Division alerted the Coast Guard about a charter fishing vessel in Orange Beach, Alabama, with eight passengers. Coast Guard investigators are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement to investigate possible violations of federal regulations related to passenger ships and fisheries.
Later, on March 23, 2023, a Coast Guard station Gulfport boarding team and NOAA enforcement officials boarded a vessel carrying 24 passengers in Biloxi, Mississippi. Coast Guard Sector Mobile investigators determined that the operator violated 46 CFR 15.515(b) by not having a properly licensed captain for a small passenger vessel.
Most recently, on April 22, 2023, Coast Guard Enforcement Officers boarded six charter vessels from Sector Mobile and Station Destin and identified one that violated 46 CFR 176.100(a) for failing to provide a certificate of inspection while carrying more than six passengers on charter, and 46 CFR 15.515(b), for lack of a properly certified master for a small passenger ship.
The task force has also terminated other trips and is actively investigating illegal charter operations in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Captain Ulysses S. Mullins, commander of the Sector Mobile, emphasized the importance of safety and enjoyment on the water. “We urge anyone paying for voyage on a passenger ship to verify that their captain has a safety plan and Merchant Mariner Credential. If the captain can’t show his license, don’t get on the boat,” he said.
Illegal owners and operators of passenger vessels could face civil penalties in excess of $60,000 for unauthorized passenger rentals, while charter companies violating an order from the port’s master could face civil penalties of up to $95,000 per violation. Other potential civil penalties include fines for failing to enroll in a chemical testing program, producing a Coast Guard inspection certificate, producing a valid documentation certificate, or obtaining a valid stability letter before flying with more than six chartered passengers.