Someone’s Been Meddling with Chesapeake Bay Boat Traffic Using a Laser Pointer

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A hooligan’s (or hooligans’) antics in the Chesapeake Bay have caught the attention of the U.S. military.

The Coast Guard posted a bulletin yesterday saying it’s heard of seven incidents in the last month in which commercial boats in the bay have been disrupted by “laser strikes.” The disruptions each lasted about 15 minutes, according to the person who reported them.

Whoever is doing this is apparently nocturnal. The Coast Guard said they all happened between midnight and 4 a.m. They began April 7 and continued through this past Wednesday morning, when four ships’ operators were “lased,” according to the Coast Guard. One of the victimized vessels was the Carnival Pride cruise ship, which was hit Sunday at 4 a.m.

The Coast Guard believes they’re originating somewhere between Drum Point and Cove Point near Calvert County.

As regional Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Trish Elliston explained in a statement, “Laser lights, and other bright lights can be a hazard to navigation.”

Maryland has seen similar tomfoolery recently. In January, police caught up with a Sykesville man who they said shined a laser pointer at a police chopper overhead. The incident caused the helicopter pilot and his crew chief to suffer eye injuries, though luckily they didn’t lose control of their aircraft.

In the case of these ships, “the most likely scenario is the laser would blind or distract a pilot which would prevent the pilot from seeing a smaller vessel,” added Elliston. “This could cause a collision or other serious incident in the shipping channel.”

Laser pointers, while useful for presentations and fun to play with, have been disruptive enough in Maryland to earn criminal penalties under a state law adopted in 2012. The Laser Safety Act makes it a misdemeanor to “knowingly and willfully cause or attempt to cause bodily injury” by shining on a car, boat or aircraft, the Coast Guard said. The penalty is a maximum 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Ocean City took it a step further, banning the devices in 2014.

The Coast Guard said it’s working with law enforcement agencies and Chesapeake Bay Pilots to catch the person or persons responsible. Tipsters can contact the Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region Command Center at 410-576-2525 or email [email protected]

Ethan McLeod
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