CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several area chemical plants have been warned to take extra precautions after a boat masquerading as a Coast Guard vessel was spotted on the Kanawha River.
"They should do whatever is necessary to protect the facility if the boat approaches at high speed," said Lt. Renee Kern, chief of port operations for the Coast Guard’s Huntington office.
"We left the decision entirely up to them whether to move vessels in the way, or to shoot, or to use a crane, or whatever," Kern said.
Coast Guard officials warned the area’s five largest chemical and energy plants on Oct. 5 that the boat had been spotted near Charleston. Kern didn’t identify the plants.
Of the more than 30 chemicals that federal authorities say have the potential for mass destruction when they are in large containers, 28 are manufactured in West Virginia.
The phony Coast Guard boat was spotted at least four times on the Kanawha River from Oct. 5 to Oct. 20, moving at high speeds or "lurking around power plants and chemical facilities," Kern said.
A state trooper saw the boat on a trailer on Oct. 18 but did not know then the boat was suspicious.
In an Oct. 11 letter sent to 48 area chemical and energy plants, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Steven Wischmann of Huntington described the rogue boat as a light gray 20-footer with "US COAST GUARD" written on the side and a bar of lights atop the cabin.
The boat had no Coast Guard number painted on its side and no Coast Guard flag.
A boat matching a similar description was seen in late September on the Ohio River near Cincinnati, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Mehler, executive officer of the Coast Guard office in Louisville.
Kern declined to give an exact description of the boat’s lone male occupant. She said he fit the description of a "Joe average American."
"We don’t know if the boat meant to scope this area and then move on to the next, or if it was doing something else illegal," Kern said. "Maybe it was someone not taking their medicine who thought they would be doing the government a favor."
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