Ship Island Ferry Begins Service - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

03/06/04

Ship Island Ferry Begins Service

The Ship Island Ferry is once again making it's daily voyages for families seeking some fun in the sun. Every year employees of 'Ship Island Excursions' begin their season on the first Saturday in March. But this year, because of new Homeland Security rules, vessel's like the Ship Island Ferry will be under new strict security guidelines.

You may see things like Coast guard officers, fenced gates, security cameras and you may even be searched as you board one of the ships. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 has created a new Maritime Security Directive that all vessels carrying 150 passengers or more must follow. Passengers and crew members we spoke to Saturday said they just want to be safe, as they enjoy beautiful days just like Saturday.

The Aultman family from Summerall arrived in Gulfport Friday night, in preparation for Saturday's big excursion to Ship Island.

"We're gonna go out to ship island and let the kids play on the beach and enjoy the fort," Sherie Aultman said.

But this year, the family fun will cost a little extra. The price of adult tickets has increased by two dollars in order to keep up new federal security restrictions. But the Aultman's said they don't mind paying a little extra for extra security.

"I think it's better to pay more, especially when you have children, you want to think about their safety first," Aultman said.

Captain Louis Skrmetta shuttled 60,000 passengers to Ship Island last year, and he thinks this year will be even better. He is working with the Coast guard, Harrison County Sheriff, and National Park service security to keep all passengers safe.

"We have a security plan for each vessel now during 'Mar-Sec' level 3, which is the highest level, we'll have to screen passengers as they board our boats this year, which is something different, something new.

With heavy fines for noncompliance, Skrmetta said he is working to have all new security measures in place by the July 1st deadline.

"We have to provide additional crew training, we have to have security personnel, security systems, not just for our boats but for our dockside, facility and each boat has to have a vessel identification system on it," Skrmetta said.

The new maritime security directive has also created a new warning level, similar to the homeland security terrorist threat level. There's a green, normal; orange level is moderate, and red level is orange.

At each different level ships will have to follow more rules. It's only at level red, when passengers have to be screened.

Saturday under an Orange Level all the passengers got safely to and from the island.

By Nathan Mihelich

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