UNALASKA (AP) -- Faced with increasingly aggressive foreign fishing vessels, the Coast Guard now has permission to shoot.
The policy shift allowing the Coast Guard to shoot at fleeing vessels is a major change in the way the Coast Guard law enforcement operations may be conducted in the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean.
''The Coast Guard was finally given permission to get a grip on a situation which was becoming very common last summer...,'' said U.S. Attorney James Barkeley.
It was the sight of machine guns last month that got the attention of the highseas driftnetter Arctic Wind after a two-day chase, said Coast Guard Commander Gil Teal, who is a special assistant U.S. Attorney General in Anchorage.
The Coast Guard cutter Sherman did not aim its guns at the Arctic Wind, but crewmembers were uncovering machine guns at battle stations, Teal said.
''The cutter Sherman did exercise its gun mounts,'' he said.
When the master of the vessel called over to ask if the Coast Guard really meant to shoot, the commanding officer of the Sherman said he had permission, Teal said.
''At that point, and only at that point, did the Arctic Wind answer any radio hail or indicate any willingness to stop,'' he said.
The Arctic Wind was seized with 25 crewmembers including 24 Russians and a South Korean, Barkeley said.
The Honduran-flagged 177-foot vessel spent two days fleeing south from the Coast Guard cutter Sherman, ignoring radio messages in six languages as it headed south in the North Pacific after it was spotted some 600 miles south of Adak.
Barkeley complained of similar problems last summer with Russian factory trawlers fleeing from the Coast Guard inside the U.S. economic zone in the Bering Sea.
Teal said permission to fire came from the National Security Council, after Washington received permission from the president of Honduras. The Central American nation had already given the U.S. that authority for drug cases.
The Arctic Wind was in Unalaska Friday, after arriving from Adak last Saturday. The next stop is Seward, where the federal government hopes to auction it off, assuming it is eventually forfeited.
Its owners have not responded to requests for information made to the offices of Sirious Fisheries in San Lorenzo, Honduras. So far, nobody has stepped forward to claim the boat, Barkeley said
The Arctic Wind was found with 1.5 tons of salmon frozen inside cardboard boxes with Japanese markings. Some was sent to a federal fisheries laboratory in Juneau to determine their origin, while most went to an Anchorage food bank.
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