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Coast Guard stops eight illegal charters from Miami Beach to Tampa area over the holiday

By HOWARD COHEN | The Miami Herald | Published: February 18, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Sweet Melissa III gave its owner a sour taste over the Presidents' Day weekend near Miami Beach.

Fort Lauderdale's Monster may give its captain a headache, too.

These are just two of the eight boats stopped by U.S. Coast Guard Stations Miami Beach and St. Petersburg last weekend on Florida waters for operating as illegal charters, according to a news release issued Thursday.

Boca Raton's Dominator and Sebasturn were also busted.

Law enforcement crews from the Miami Beach and St. Petersburg stations boarded the vessels and found that two of operators had violated captain of the port orders, a federal offense. Captain of the port orders gives district, sector and commanding officers authority over vessels, facilities, cargo operations and the people working on vessels and the waterfront, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Station Miami Beach and Coast Guard Investigative Services personnel stopped one federal offender, the operator of the motor yacht, Sweet Melissa III, near Miami Beach. The other captain of the port order violation took place in St. Petersburg near the Courtney Campbell Causeway in the Tampa Bay area.

That vessel had eight passengers who paid about $200 apiece for their charter, the Coast Guard said.

Among the violations:

Not having a valid certificate of inspection, failure to have a drug and alcohol program and failure to comply with a captain of the port order.

Those on board a busted boat could find their pleasure cruise was an expense for naught.

"There's no guarantee you'll get your money back after your voyage is terminated," Jesus Porrata, chief of the investigations division for Coast Guard Sector Miami said in a statement.

What customers should do

The Coast Guard suggests that before you charter a boat, ask for the captain's credentials.

"If an owner or operator cannot produce the red Coast Guard booklet, it is strongly recommended money not be exchanged."

Also, verify that the captain has a safety plan and a Merchant Mariner Credential.

For larger charter boats or those with more than six passengers, ask to see a Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection. If the operator can't produce proper credentials, don't get on the boat, the Coast Guard says.

Fines

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations.

Owners and operators that violate a captain of the port order can face more than $95,000 in penalties.

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