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Coast Guard, partner agencies terminate illegal charter near Houston
Kemah, TX
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HOUSTON — Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, Coast Guard Station Houston, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department conducted a joint operation and investigation of an illegal charter operation Wednesday on Clear Lake in Kemah, Texas.

Coast Guard Investigative Service personnel investigated the vessel for a possible violation of a Captain of the Port Order (46 USC 70036) and their investigation is ongoing. In addition, Houston Police Department personnel arrested the captain and crew member due to unlicensed alcoholic beverage sales.

The 67-foot vessel Spanish Princess has an active COTP Order restricting them from passenger operations, including the carriage of one or more passengers-for-hire. The vessel is suspected of violating the COTP Order, operating without a valid USCG Certificate of Inspection, operating without a valid Merchant Mariner Credential, operating without a valid Certificate of Documentation, and operating without enrollment in a drug and alcohol testing program.

Possible violations for illegal charter operations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 176.100 (a) – No valid Certificate of Inspection while having passengers for hire.
  2. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 16.201 – Failure to have a drug and alcohol program.
  3. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 180.71 (a)(e) – Failure to ensure adequate number of type 1 PFDs for all personnel on board and that life jackets comply with 180.71(a)-(e).

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or over for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations. Charters that violate a Captain of the Port Order can face over $95,000. Some potential civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel are:

  • Up to $7,846 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
  • Up to $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.
  • Up to $16,687 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.
  • Up to $12,219 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing vessel in service with more than six passengers for hire.
  • Up to $95,881 for every day of failure to comply with a Captain of the Port Order.

“Illegal charter operations are disconnected from the regulatory and safety reach of the Coast Guard’s Prevention Department," said Bruce Davies, chief of the Investigations Division at Sector Houston-Galveston. "Without the Coast Guard’s regulatory oversight, passengers’ safety falls upon the unqualified or unlicensed operators conducting these illegal charters. The Coast Guard will not accept these unsafe operations and will continue to pursue statutory and regulatory enforcement actions against these illegal operators.”

The Coast Guard urges the public to exercise caution and consider these questions before chartering a vessel:

  • Does the vessel have a credentialed master aboard?
  • Are the master and crew enrolled in a Department of Transportation Drug and Alcohol Testing program?
  • Does the vessel have proper documentation and safety equipment aboard?
  • If carrying more than six passengers, does the chartered vessel hold a Certificate of Inspection issued by the Coast Guard?
  • If it is a bareboat charter rental (one without a crew provided), are you exceeding 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?

For information regarding your boating operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector Houston-Galveston Investigations Division at HoustonIO@uscg.mil.

We urge the boating community to remain vigilant and report any suspicious operations to (281) 464-4851 or HoustonSCC@uscg.mil.

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