Coast Guard On Patrol

U.S. Coast Guard boats from the Pascagoula Station are patrolling a security zone covering the basin between Singing River Island and Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard. Coast Guard officials say they are keeping out recreational boaters and commercial fishermen.

The restrictions went up shortly after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 on New York and Washington. The security zone initially was to remain in effect until Sunday, but Lt. J.G. Gabe Solomon, public affairs officer for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Mobile, Ala., said officials are expected to extend the effective date. ``That's under discussion,'' he said. ``They are trying to determine how long to extend it.''

Solomon said the crew members on the boats are armed ``pretty much like a police officer would be armed. It is mostly for their own protection.'' Coast Guard crews are armed with 9mm semiautomatic Beretta pistols and have ready access to 12-gauge shotguns, M-16s and M-60 machine guns as well. ``We are the fifth armed service, and we are enforcing the security zones,'' said Chief Barry White, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Pascagoula.

Coast Guard members helping the Navy guard its ships and other assets at Naval Station Pascagoula and Northrop Grumman Litton Ingalls Ship Systems have had to steer several misguided boaters out of restricted waters in the past two weeks. Solomon said the policy has changed concerning port visits by merchant vessels. Under current policy, foreign flag vessels entering the Port of Pascagoula are required to give the Coast Guard 24-hour notice before entering the port. The notice includes the ship's destination and cargo list to allow the Coast Guard to do a safety check on the ship. Until further notice, ships of 300 tons or larger or any vessel carrying cargoes of gasoline, solid ammonium nitrate, liquefied natural gas, liquefied propane gas, anhydrous ammonia or other hazardous materials must notify the captain of Port Mobile before entering a 12-mile safety zone from Long Beach to Fenholloway River Florida and including all inland waterways. Ships will not be allowed to enter, leave or move in the safety zone without permission from the captain of Port Mobile.

The Coast Guard has said only boaters authorized by the captain of port in Mobile may enter the channel that leads to the causeway, a favorite fishing spot. Violation of the rule, which may be extended past the original end date of Sunday, is a felony that can result in seizure of the violating vessel, up to 10 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000. Outside the channel, boats must have permission to pass within 100 yards of a Navy vessel, and may pass within 500 yards only if they keep moving. Naval station police and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources are participating in the heightened patrols.