Skip to main content

New Homeland Security boat to patrol Cape Cod and Islands

The Barnstable County (Massachusetts) Sheriff’s Office has received a $445,965 Homeland Security grant to buy and equip a Safe 31 radiation detection boat to patrol the waters around Cape Cod, and to train personnel to operate the vessel and its detection gear.

The Safe 31 will carry radiological and other detection equipment.

The Coast Guard, which coordinates Homeland Security’s maritime strategy, is concerned about terrorists in small craft undertaking attacks around Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, says Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings. This could include terrorists targeting the region’s ferries, including the service between the Cape and the two islands; boarding a ferry in port and undertaking an attack while it is underway; assaulting one of the growing number of cargo vessels using the Cape Cod Canal or a cruise ship visiting the region in the summer and fall; and protecting the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth on Cape Cod Bay, he says.

The Coast Guard’s maritime strategy includes developing a capability to detect dirty bombs — conventional explosive devices packed with radioactive material — and chemical or nuclear devices hidden on small boats or in ships’ containers. “With over 400 miles of shoreline and the Cape’s many harbors and inlets, as well as our large boating community and numerous ferry services, a vessel of this type is long overdue,” Cummings says in a statement.

Interviewed by phone, he says the Coast Guard has stations at Woods Hole, Chatham and Sandwich, and an air station inland in west-central Cape Cod. The agency is hard-pressed, in summer especially, just to keep up with the volume of calls from boaters, he says, and there are no other marine law enforcement vessels on Cape Cod. “Law enforcement is definitely lacking,” he says, adding that there are no law enforcement boats with radiological detection capabilities between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. The Safe 31 will be the sheriff’s first marine patrol boat. The department has a deputy with a 100-ton captain’s license and two former Coast Guard coxswains on staff, so he has the personnel — once trained — to man the Homeland Security boat.

The Steamship Authority, which operates nine ferries among Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, says its vessels alone carried nearly 3 million passengers and 625,000 vehicles in 2014, and Massachusetts has about 186,000 registered and U.S.-documented boats, many of which are out and around Cape Cod and the islands in the summer, according to the Cape and Islands Harbormasters Association.

“Being out there on a regular basis and projecting a visible, deterring presence is half the battle,” says Cummings. He says the vessel likely will spend a lot of time shadowing ferries to deter terrorists and will respond to law enforcement calls.

Delivery of the boat was expected in January. It is an aluminum-hulled outboard built by Safe Boats International, of Bremerton, Washington, which designs and builds boats for the military, law enforcement and firefighters. Its Safe 31 has a foam collar for stability and a sealed aluminum cabin with air filters for protection against contaminants. It will be equipped with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection equipment. Cummings says it will be powered by twin 300-hp outboards.

The vessel will start visiting harbors on the Cape and the islands this spring so the marine community can get acquainted with it, Cummings says. “We’ll see how the community likes it and how busy it is,” he says. If it turns out there’s a need, there could be more marine patrol boats in the department’s future.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.