Following recent terrorist attacks in London and an ensuing security alert for U.S. public marine transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard has begun enforcing a temporary rule that creates a 100-yard no-entry zone around cruise ships.
The temporary rule went into effect Thursday and expires at the end of the cruise ship season on Sept. 29. It applies only to cruise ships while they are under escort by a Coast Guard boat or ship.
The Coast Guard routinely escorts cruise ships in and out of Juneau and other Southeast Alaska ports.
"More than likely, we won't be out there escorting the ships in remote areas," said Lt. Matt York, with the Coast Guard's 17th District Office of Compliance in Juneau.
The rule is a watered-down version of an earlier Coast Guard proposal that would create extensive security zones around cruise ships when they are traveling or docked in Southeast Alaska waters.
In both cases, the Coast Guard has cited terrorist attacks as a reason for creating the no-entry zones.
The original proposal is still under review as a final rule but has aroused some opposition from fishermen, residents and Southeast Alaska tour operators.
"From what I've heard of the new rule, it is less restrictive and will likely be easier for local fishermen and recreational and commercial boaters to interpret," said Kirby Day, Southeast shore operations director for Princess Tours.
The United Fishermen of Alaska, a group of more than 30 fishing organizations in the state, is pleased that the interim rule is a little less restrictive than the original, said Mark Vinsel, the group's executive director.
The Coast Guard's original proposal would create 100- and 25-yard no-entry zones around cruise ships in all Southeast Alaska navigable waters.
Fishermen said the rule could cause some tight squeezes, delays and other hardships in small harbors and narrow passages in the region.
Some critics also questioned how the Coast Guard was planning to enforce the rule.
Almost 150 people commented on the original proposal, York said.
No one can enter the security zones without first obtaining permission from the Coast Guard vessel escorting the ship, he said.
Violation of the rule could result in civil and criminal penalties, York said.
After the terrorist attacks in London, the Coast Guard also heightened security for Alaska state ferries, escorting them into port with machine gun boats.
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