Ferry Companies Conducting Random Bag Searches

Both of the ferry companies which run between St. Thomas and St. John are now conducting random bag searches, due to U.S. Homeland Security regulations.

Under the Maritime Transportation Safety Act (MTSA) of 2004, all vessels, ports and port facilities are required to implement a U.S. Coast Guard-approved security plan, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Dana Warra.

“The MTSA was enacted through the U.S. Senate to improve the security efforts, both domestically and internationally, but more so domestically,” said Warra.

The local ferry operators, Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, submitted security plans to the Coast Guard in 2004, but have only recently implemented the random bag searches.

Although Warra would not comment specifically on Varlack Ventures’ or Transportation Services’ security plans, the Coast Guard routinely makes changes to the plans, he said.

“The Coast Guard looks at the plan, and if we don’t think it’s worthy or it has vulnerabilities, we ask for improvements,” said Warra.

St. John’s ferry service operators are following regulations, according to Varlack Ventures’ general manger, Delrise Varlack.

“It really started from the time that we had to implement the Homeland Security plan,” said Varlack. “There were some concerns that were addressed by the Coast Guard, and now everyone is doing what is required.”

Everything — all bags, purses and backpacks — are subject to search and the regulation will be in effect on a permanent basis, the general manager added.

“The public needs to understand that the Coast Guard is doing its job to prevent something from happening, and providing better security and safety to the general public,” Warra said.

Daily commuters are taking the new regulation in stride.

“It didn’t seem too inconvenient for us daily commuters, as they seem to recognize us and mainly target day-trippers,” said Dae Pickerell.

Assistant Attorney General Marty Alperen didn’t see the point in the bag searches.

“Rather than address the uselessness of the entire security plan, they have simply increased the level of absurdity,” he said.

The random bag searches are the latest change in ferry regulations. In April, the companies enacted a $2 fee for each piece of luggage, and in August, a temporary $1 each-way surcharge.

The Public Services Commission, the nongovernmental body that regulates the ferry service companies, is considering allowing a permanent rate hike. The commission is still gathering financial information and will discuss the issue at its monthly board meeting in January.