USCG Operation Kohola Guardian

U.S. Coast Guard members aboard USCGC Galveston Island patrol offshore during Operation Kohola Guardian in Maui, Hawaii, Feb. 14, 2017. Operation Kohola Guardian is a cooperative operation between state and federal partners to protect the humpback whale population migration to the Hawaiian Islands. USCG photo by Melissa E. McKenzie

US Coast Guard Cracks Down On Hawaiian Vessels Harassing Wildlife

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September 2, 2021

Today the US Coast Guard (USCG) and NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement launched Operation Kapena Kohole to curtail charters within the Hawaiian Islands that are operating illegally and harassing marine wildlife.

“Coast Guard Sector Honolulu is conducting Operation Kapena Kohole alongside NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to target and prevent recent cases of sea turtle, monk seal, and dolphin harassment reported from beachgoers and waterborne tours,” said Chief Warrant Officer Omar Perez, Sector Honolulu’s command security officer.

Thanks to tourism, Hawaii is home to a large commercial charter boat fleet but within this vibrant local industry, illegal charters disguise themselves as alternatives for hire, threatening the safety of an unaware public.

“Not possessing proper merchant mariner credentials or operating vessels not properly outfitted for commercial use poses a significant risk to public safety and significant impact to the local economy,” says a USCG statement. “The Hawaiian Islands average 9.4 million annual visitors contributing over 16 billion dollars, accounting for 21% of the state’s economy.”

In the United States, even small boats for hire must have a captain with merchant mariners credentials. These credentials show that the operator has met certain proficiency requirements in navigation, seamanship, as well as steering and sailing rules. For larger charter boats or those with more than six passengers, the vessel must also carry a Coast Guard issued certificate of inspection.

“Passengers should refrain from employing charters and tours from captains who do not advertise Coast Guard certification or possess valid merchant mariner credentials,” said Perez. “The credentials must be present at all times on all voyages; the dangers from engaging with unlicensed captains can be life-threatening.”

The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger’s vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and their merchant mariner credentials are up to date.

Charter vessels must have a sufficient number of personal flotation devices and other required life-saving equipment on board at all times for all passengers and crew. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials or equipment, passengers should not get on the boat.

Owners and operators of illegal charter boats can face up to $27,500 in fines for illegal passenger-for-hire operations.

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