Armed CG boats escort state ferries

Service reacts to London bombings

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The U.S. Coast Guard has increased security measures around state ferries in the wake of Thursday's bombings in London.

Coast Guard machine gun boats have escorted Alaska Marine Highway System vessels into port since late last week. The gun boats meet the ferries several miles from a destination and accompany them to the docks.

The increased protection is among the precautions taken when the government's maritime security is at its second level, color-coded orange.

The Coast Guard also escorts cruise ships and sends divers to look for underwater bombs. But to protect the integrity of the mission, Coast Guard spokeswoman Gail Dale could not confirm if the Coast Guard is currently involved in either tactic.

The guns are an unusual sight for some along the waterfront.

"It's a little odd to see machine guns on the front of a boat out here," said Rob Sanford, manager at Hangar on the Wharf Restaurant.

"I thought they were practicing some kind of drills," Doc Water's Pub waiter J.R. Diamond said Tuesday after seeing the gun boats along the cruise docks by his workplace.

Dale said the Coast Guard has escorted ferries before but would not disclose how often is typical.

The supporting crew is known as the Maritime Safety and Security Team, which includes six response boats and is based in Anchorage. Juneau-based ships are not being deployed, Dale said.

John Manly, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said ferry schedules are not affected by the escorts and increased security. Passenger numbers have not dropped.

"I haven't heard of anyone changing their plans," Manly said.

Mass transit systems nationwide also are raising security levels.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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