The Coast Guard 17th District stationed in Juneau wants a boring day.
Luckily for them, tourists aboard the first cruise ship of the season and residents of Juneau, that’s exactly what they had during a security patrol Monday morning.
“We are doing an escort of the first inbound cruise ship of the season,” Chief Mahire A’Giza said aboard a 45-foot Coast Guard response boat Monday. “It is part of the ports, waterways and coastal security mission.”
Members of the media were invited to join the patrol Monday. While this particular security patrol was planned for this purpose, generally even the members of the Coast Guard may not know until they arrive in the morning that they will embark on a security patrol.
These patrols are intended to act as deterrent for any terrorist or illegal activity the ports or larger cruise ships. The Coast Guard also circles around cruise ships to establish security zones.
“This patrol was sent to mainly protect the Juneau waterways and the cruise ship that is coming in,” Lt. Brian Dykens said.
The Coast Guard is the only branch of the armed forces that has the authority to make arrests and handle other law enforcement duties on the waterways. Dykens said the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over any of the federally navigable waterway around Juneau and patrols from Tracy Arm Fjord (45 miles south of Juneau) to Skagway. With that in mind, if suspicious activity occurred during the patrol Monday, the unit could have taken action.
“We have the authority to seize drugs and conduct arrests,” Dykens said. “We regulate vessels and vessel traffic. We can be inspecting a ferry one day and the next unit is out doing a search-and-rescue case or doing law enforcement patrol.”
Neither A’Giza nor Dykens have yet to be a part of any dangerous situation since being stationed in Juneau, but the boats are prepared. A’Giza has been stationed in for one year (15 years total with the Coast Guard) and Dykens two years (nine total years with the Coast Guard) here in Juneau.
According to statistics provided by Dykens, on an average day, the Coast Guard in the U.S. conducts 44 search and rescues, saves 12 lives, assists 60 people in distress, conducts 48 water waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure and seizes 1,221 pounds of cocaine. Monthly, the Coast Guard in Alaska saves 22 lives, assists 53 people in distress and reports and investigates 25 marine casualties.
The two response boats the Coast Guard sent out Monday had guns attached to it before the patrol began. Fortunately, Dykens said he was not aware of guns ever being used here in Juneau, but are attached just in case they are needed.
“We do a weapons safety function check to make sure everything is clear with the firearm and to make sure it is ready to go,” Thomas Cumby, Machinery Technician, said. “So it is ready to go if we do run into any issues.”
Dykens also pointed out that just because a Coast Guard boat is out on the waterways, residents and visitors should not be concerned. The appearance of the Coast Guard boats should be a clear sign to residents that the Coast Guard is here to protect the waterways, Dykens said. When boats are on patrol, a blue light flashes, but it does not always mean anything dangerous is happening.
“(The Coast Guard) puts the blue lights on during search-and-rescues and for patrols like today,” Dykens said. “That just gives public awareness that we are on official business. We want people to please watch for our vessels and listen for our warnings.”
Monday’s trip began from the Coast Guard station, and the boat made its way around the Ruby Princess cruise ship with six people on board. The boats’ crew members checked the perimeter for any warning signs. They kept an eye out for any odd packages either in the water and on shore. They were also prepared to notify other boats if they were traveling too close to the cruise ship.
“The captain of the port will establish a certain diameter around these vessels and we will make sure any recreational vessels stay out of these zones while (cruise ships) are traveling inbound or outbound,” A’Giza said.
The unit does random patrols periodically and usually they don’t know until they are alerted that day. After the Ruby Princess made its way to the dock, the Guard’s patrol duty was done — at least for this day. Since it was a morning with no disturbances, it was considered a good day.
“There were no threats or anything wrong,” A’Giza said. “It was just a normal mission that we do. So, it was successful. (The Ruby Princess) made its way to the pier and hopefully the passengers enjoy Juneau.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.