Coast Guard Sting Operation Bites Newport Boat Captain

Times Staff Writer

Following up on its threat to crack down on the unlicensed use of charter boats, the Coast Guard conducted an undercover sting operation that led to the citing of a boat captain operating without a permit, officials said Saturday.

A Coast Guard spokesman identified the captain as Darrell Palmer, who was cited late Friday afternoon for operating a charter without a certificate of inspection. Palmer could lose his license to commercially navigate boats, the spokesman said, adding that charges would also be brought against the boat's owner and agent, which could lead to fines of up to $3,000 each.

The Coast Guard had warned that it would crack down on unlicensed charters. Such charters have grown in popularity in recent years as an increasing number of businesses and individuals seek new ways to host parties, weddings and other special events.

First of Its Kind

The sting, however, was the first of its kind in Newport Harbor. According to Don Roberts, a Coast Guard petty officer, undercover officers rented the 54-foot motor yacht Roman Holiday for a four-hour trip Friday afternoon. Roberts said the officers signed a charter agreement that, if legal, would have made them responsible for the costs of fuel, catering and other essential expenses.

Once out into the harbor, the Coast Guard vessel Point Divide pulled alongside the Roman Holiday and cited the captain. The yacht was then guided back to harbor.

"We're trying to put an end to boats being chartered without the proper license and safety inspections," Roberts said.

Roberts said the yacht was often rented for public use without a license. He said the yacht also was cited for several safety violations.

"This is something that has been going on for a while and the Coast Guard's main objective is to get it across to the illegal boat charters that we will enforce the law and ensure the safety of the people on the boat," Roberts said.

He said the unlicensed and uninspected vessels were a growing problem, particularly in Newport Harbor and Marina del Rey.

Roberts hinted that there would be more such sting operations, emphasizing that it was better to catch the vessels operating illegally in action.

"You know the law's being broken and you can't always catch them in the act," he said.

The Coast Guard watched activity in the harbor for about a week before reserving the Roman Holiday for a four-hour ride, Roberts added.

The Coast Guard routinely inspects charter boats to make sure they carry an adequate number of life preservers and that other devices, such as the fog horn and ship-to-shore radio, are operating properly.

"People don't realize the Coast Guard licenses have some meaning behind them," he said. "It's a federal law that requires inspection of vessels carrying seven or more people for hire. There's no problem with people who are taking their friends out on a Sunday afternoon for no charge."

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