Coast Guard Fines Passenger For Laser Strike
On December 27, a U.S. Coast Guard hearing officer fined Washington resident Mark Raden $9,500 for allegedly shining a high-powered blue laser beam at the bridge of the Washington State Ferry Tokitae.
The USCG said in a statement that Raden was aboard another Washington State Ferry, the Kitsap, on a route parallel to the Tokitae's on the night of October 22, 2015. Raden allegedly aimed the laser at the bridge of the Tokitae, striking both the master and the chief mate in the eyes and affecting the vessel's safe navigation.
In addition to the Coast Guard fine for interfering with the safe operation of a vessel, Raden also pled guilty to criminal charges of reckless endangerment, and was sentenced to 15 days in jail, 240 hours of community service and 24 months of probation. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $3700 to the Tokitae's master and chief mate.
The Coast Guard said that Raden had a history of lasering incidents. "Interfering with the safe operation of a vessel, particularly a large passenger vessel, endangers all of those on board,” said Commander Darwin Jensen, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound chief of prevention. "This one person's irresponsible actions could have had a much more tragic outcome for the passengers of the Tokitae as the vessel was preparing to arrive in Clinton. The Coast Guard will pursue appropriate criminal or civil enforcement actions against anyone who interferes with the safe operation of vessels."
Problems with lasers on the rise
The case of the Tokitae is among many recent incidents in which powerful laser beams have been deliberately aimed at merchant vessels and Coast Guard assets.
Last September, a suspect shined a powerful laser at an MH-65 search and rescue helicopter near Port Angeles, Washington, forcing the crew to land for two hours for a medical check. In early 2016, Coast Guard Office San Juan 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.
Not all of the laser strikes are deliberate – especially during the holidays, when some homeowners install decorative lasers on their property without considering their aim. In late November, a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft crew on a flight over Sacramento reported that they were being illuminated with a bright green laser. The Sacramento Police dispatched a helicopter to investigate, and they found the source: a "Star Shower" laser light projector, which shines hundreds of beams in a wide arc (available on sale for around $20-40).
These decorative lights have also created trouble on the water. Just before Christmas, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound said that it was receiving reports from mariners that holiday laser displays were shining from waterfront residences, potentially affecting vessel operators’ vision. “Many homes may be using laser holiday lights during this time of the year,” said Captain Joe Raymond, the captain of the port. “We ask that waterfront residents . . . be sure to point the lasers away from the waterway.”