The Coast Guard announced Thursday that it is seeing an uptick in laser strikes on merchant shipping in the Chesapeake Bay, including four incidents on Wednesday.
The malicious high-power laser incidents included strikes on the merchant vessels Salome, Bulk Spain and AM Annaba, plus a strike on a pilot boat. In addition, three other vessels reported laser strikes over the past month: the car carrier Hoegh Osaka, at 0200 hours on Monday; the cruise ship Carnival Pride, at 0400 hours on Sunday; and the boxship Maersk Kolkata, at 0100 on April 7.
The incidents occurred in the vicinity of Cove Point and Drum Point, near the Patuxent River entrance. The area is on the approaches to the Port of Baltimore, a busy route for merchant shipping and a popular area for leisure boating.
Lt. Trish Elliston, Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region, warned that these laser strikes are not harmless pranks – in fact, they pose a significant risk to marine traffic. “The most likely scenario is the laser would blind or distract a [watch officer] . . . This could cause a collision or other serious incident in the shipping channel," she said. The Sector has asked the public to report any information regarding the perpetrator(s) of these strikes to the regional USCG command center or to the Coast Guard Investigative Service.
The USCG has expressed concern at the rising number of dangerous lasing incidents across the country. Last year, the Coast Guard office in San Juan, Puerto Rico reported three laser strikes over a five day period on its SAR helicopters – including one incident which occurred in the middle of a rescue hoist.
Interfering with the operation of a vehicle, vessel or aircraft by intentionally pointing a laser at it is a federal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to ten years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500. The Coast Guard takes these cases seriously: in December, a hearing officer fined a Washington resident $9,500 for shining a high-powered blue laser at the bridge of the Washington State Ferry Tokitae. The perpetrator was also forced to pay $3,700 in damages to the vessel's master and chief mate.