Pubdate: Sat, 20 Apr 2002
Source: The Post and Courier (SC)
Copyright: 2002 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith


The Charleston County Sheriff's Office is testing a new, one-of-a-kind boat 
designed to help law enforcement deal with potential_water-borne threats, 
from wily drug runners to terrorists.

The 28-foot boat, equipped with powerful motors, an M-60 machine gun, and 
the latest in navigation technology, is on loan to the sheriff's office for 
one year from the manufacturer, McKee Craft of North Carolina.

The firm spent 18 months designing the $100,000 boat specifically to meet 
the needs of officers providing harbor security, said Key McKee, company 

With almost 200 miles of coastline, the nation's fourth-busiest container 
port, dozens of waterways and boat traffic that exceeds 80,000 vessels each 
year, Charleston County is a potentially attractive target for drug 
smugglers and terrorists, said Sheriff Al Cannon.

But local authorities have not always devoted the necessary attention or 
resources to addressing this threat, he said.

"This is one area that law enforcement and local government has neglected 
historically, and we still have a ways to go improve our capabilities," he 

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, port security has increased to a level not seen 
since World War II, with concerns voiced about terrorists using the 
maritime transportation system to smuggle in weapons of mass destruction. 
There is already evidence of drug smugglers using the area's waterways.

In Charleston, federal agents found more than 6,500 pounds of cocaine and 
10,000 pounds of marijuana in shipping containers during the past three 
years, authorities have said. When the sheriff's office merged with the 
county police in 1991, its marine patrol consisted of one jon boat and a 
single motor.

The patrol now has 21 vessels, five full-time members and 10 part-time 

The unit handles a variety of tasks, from conducting boating safety checks 
to performing rescues, conducting security sweeps of Charleston Harbor and 
assisting U.S. Customs agents with searches. McKee learned of the marine 
patrol after meeting one of its supervisors through a mutual friend.

He decided the group would be perfect to test his prototype security boat 
and offer suggestions for how it should be equipped. With dozens of vendors 
donating motors, electronics, a trailer and other equipment, the boat was 
assembled in only four weeks, and arrived in Charleston late Wednesday.

Members of the sheriff's office marine patrol staged a demonstration of the 
boat Friday on the Cooper River, near the old Charleston Navy base. As its 
twin 250-horse-power engines growled, the boat sliced through the choppy 
water with ease, passing through wakes with almost no bounce and 
negotiating quick, 180-turns as if it were sitting in a swimming pool.

Authorities won't reveal the boat's top speed, but they say it is more than 
enough to keep up with the so-called "go fast" boats favored by drug runners.

The vessel is equipped with state-of-the-art radar, a global positioning 
system, shotgun racks, fluorescent lights for night-running, and a cell 
phone link that gives deputies a 50-mile radius for wireless communication, 
said Sgt. Lew Howard of the marine patrol. Video cameras and an on-board 
DVD unit will allow deputies to record footage of incidents and evidence 
directly onto compact discs.

A wireless feature also will allow Cannon to monitor the action from his 
desk computer, he said.

"This takes communication and coordination to a whole new level," Howard 
said. T

he boat also has a double hull filled with polyurethane foam designed to 
keep occupants above water even if suffers serious damage.

"You can shoot it full of holes and the boat will still bring you back in," 
said Lanness McKee, founder of McKee boats.
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