A Navy bomb squad and the Coast Guard were dispatched Thursday and commuter ferry traffic was delayed by reports of mines in San Francisco Bay.
The “mines” turned out to be beach balls painted black and studded with Styrofoam coffee cups, planted in the bay in an apparent protest of the Reagan Administration’s trade embargo on Nicaragua.
Crews were called out about 6 a.m. and spent 2 1/2 hours delicately collecting the 25 black beach balls with yellow Styrofoam cups, treating each as a potentially live explosive, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Gail Williams.
Police later arrested two women found in the city’s financial district posting handbills proclaiming that the devices symbolized CIA mines placed in the Nicaraguan harbor of Corinto in 1983.
The handbills were headed “Warning! The Port of San Francisco has been mined.” They advised in small print, “The mines in San Francisco, unlike those off the shores of Nicaragua, are representations only and pose no threat to the nautical public.”
A statement said the phony explosives were designed to re-create the “dread” inflicted on Nicaraguans by mines near their coast.
FBI spokesman Frank Daniels said the handbills’ “disclaimer” about the phony mines’ threat probably will rule out any investigation by the FBI.
“It’s funny in one aspect, but it’s not funny when you consider the number of people that have to go out there to take care of these things that they put in the water,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Ken Freeze.
Minor Ferry Delays
The “mining” caused no serious problems, but resulted in minor delays of commuter ferry service between San Francisco, Sausalito and Larkspur, according to Howard Learned, supervisor for the Golden Gate Transit District ferries.
Arrested in the financial district were Claire O’Brien and Vicki Rowe, both 27 and residents of San Francisco, according to police information officer Carrie Lucas.
Witnesses reported that the women were posting the handbills in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting such activity by anyone but public employees, Lucas said, adding that the possible fine ranges from $50 to $250.
O’Brien was booked at the City Jail for investigation of violating the ordinance, giving false information about her identity to police and possession of a white powder that police suspect was a narcotic, Lucas said. Rowe was booked only on the misdemeanor ordinance charge.
Bail was set at $500 for Rowe and $3,000 for O’Brien, according to police cadet Antoinette Johnson.