Ear­ly yes­ter­day morn­ing, the newest high speed cata­ma­ran in the Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion fleet, the Vic­to­ria Clip­per IV, was stolen from its berth at Seat­tle’s Pier 69 by a reg­is­tered sex offend­er who lat­er told police he was try­ing to use the ves­sel to get to West Seat­tle. (Why he did­n’t just walk or take the bus there is a pre­sum­ably a ques­tion that police detec­tives have asked him or plan to ask him).

The theft was dis­cov­ered by Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion CEO Dar­rell Bryan, who hap­pened to be in the com­pa­ny’s offices around the time the Clip­per broke away from the dock and quick­ly real­ized that none of his cap­tains were aboard pilot­ing the ves­sel, as he recount­ed to the Seat­tle Times and the Vic­to­ria Times-Colonist.

Bryan alert­ed author­i­ties and before long the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment and the Coast Guard were on the scene. After attempt­ing to nego­ti­ate with the thief, , a SWAT team was able to board the Clip­per IV and take Samuel K. McDo­nough into cus­tody with­out fur­ther inci­dent. He is cur­rent­ly being held in the King Coun­ty Jail.

The theft of the Clip­per IV is already a con­tender for the most bizarre sto­ry of the year. It’s not every day that an eight mil­lion dol­lar high speed pas­sen­ger fer­ry is stolen. As Bryan wry­ly not­ed, it’s actu­al­ly the first time in the near­ly three decade his­to­ry of the com­pa­ny that some­one has tak­en one of its vessels.

But the inci­dent is also a sober­ing reminder that we need stronger secu­ri­ty mea­sures in place to pro­tect our ports, includ­ing the Port of Seattle.

Our two U.S. Sen­a­tors, Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell, have been pret­ty vocal over the years about the need to bol­ster port secu­ri­ty, and the rest of us would do well to lis­ten when they are speak­ing on the subject.

While we don’t know all of the facts of this case yet, police allege that McDo­nough sneaked onto Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion’s premis­es, got aboard the Clip­per IV, entered the ship’s wheel­house, and start­ed its engines… all with­out being stopped. Sup­pos­ed­ly, he slipped into the restrict­ed area of Pier 69 by jump­ing the fence adja­cent to the sales kiosk, which is not topped with barbed wire.

And then, after he was aboard, he was able to get into the wheel­house, which was appar­ent­ly not locked — though it should have been, accord­ing to Bryan:

The ves­sel isn’t locked because it’s in a secure perime­ter, but the wheel­house should have been locked, he said.

“There is a lock­ing mech­a­nism, and you have to have the code to get in,” he said.

“Tomor­row morn­ing we will be going through every­thing. We’ll be look­ing at the lessons learned and what can we do to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing for anoth­er 28 years.”

That “secure perime­ter” evi­dent­ly was­n’t very secure, since it was breached by a men­tal­ly trou­bled sex offend­er in the dark of night.

In the future, Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion should­n’t assume it is okay to leave its ves­sels unlocked sim­ply because they are in berths that are behind fences and watched by sur­veil­lance cam­eras. Had the Clip­per IV been locked, McDo­nough would not have been able to sim­ply walk on board and make his way to the wheelhouse.

Had the wheel­house been prop­er­ly secured, McDo­nough would not have been able to get inside and access the ship’s controls.

Worse, the key to start the engines was appar­ent­ly in the unlocked wheel­house… and maybe even in the igni­tion. (Bryan told The Seat­tle Times a key is need­ed to start the Clip­per IV. He did not con­firm whether the key had been left in the wheel­house, but we sus­pect that’s what might have happened).

Bryan told Seat­tle tele­vi­sion sta­tions that the com­pa­ny will move quick­ly to fix the fence by the sales kiosk so it can’t be jumped any­more. That’s a good idea, but an even bet­ter one would be a top-to-bot­tom review of secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures. Tough ques­tions need to be asked and answered.

For instance, how is it that McDo­nough was not noticed until he was maneu­ver­ing the Clip­per IV away from the dock, rip­ping off cleats in the process? (Secu­ri­ty cam­eras aren’t very use­ful if some­one isn’t mon­i­tor­ing them).

And why had the wheel­house been left unlocked?

Does the ratio­nale for leav­ing the ves­sels acces­si­ble when not in use make sense any more, giv­en what hap­pened yes­ter­day? If the ves­sel had been secured, it could have stopped McDo­nough from mak­ing it to the unlocked wheelhouse.

The Clip­per IV is one of the world’s fastest water­craft. Built in Bergen, Nor­way, and reg­is­tered in Nas­sau — pre­sum­ably for tax pur­pos­es — it is pow­ered by a water­jet propul­sion sys­tem and can trav­el at speeds of up to thir­ty-five miles per hour. It pro­vides con­ve­nient fer­ry ser­vice between Seat­tle and Vic­to­ria, British Columbia.

The Clip­per IV is a cata­ma­ran, mean­ing it has mul­ti­ple hulls. It is said to be dif­fi­cult to oper­ate, and it can’t be start­ed up just by turn­ing a key.

McDo­nough appar­ent­ly was clever enough to fig­ure out Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion’s equiv­a­lent of a pre­flight check­list and start up the ship. But he did not have the skill to dri­ve it prop­er­ly, and as a result it appeared as if the Clip­per IV was adrift, going in cir­cles. Author­i­ties called McDo­nough’s short voy­age a joyride.

I’ve rid­den the Clip­per before, and it is a very cool boat. It can tra­verse the waters between Seat­tle and Vic­to­ria very quick­ly. The cross­ing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be bumpy, but Puget Sound waters are rea­son­ably calm most of the time.

Much atten­tion has been paid in recent years to bol­ster­ing secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures for air, rail, and marine pas­sen­gers, to the point where (par­tic­u­lar­ly in air­ports) we have secu­ri­ty the­ater on a grand scale. It’s more for show than for effect.

Our approach to secu­ri­ty has been far too reac­tive and not proac­tive enough. We respond to inci­dents to pre­vent repeats but we don’t think cre­ative­ly to antic­i­pate and pre­vent new inci­dents. We’ve spent bil­lions to for­ti­fy the entrances to air­port ter­mi­nals, but even still, it’s been demon­strat­ed that peo­ple can get through secu­ri­ty with restrict­ed items unde­tect­ed. One fel­low has even fig­ured out how to build a gun out of items you can pur­chase after clear­ing air­port secu­ri­ty.

Clip­per Nav­i­ga­tion CEO Dar­rell Bryan might con­sid­er hir­ing the the equiv­a­lent of a hack­er or team of hack­ers and see­ing if they can pen­e­trate the com­pa­ny’s defens­es when most of the com­pa­ny’s work­ers are off-duty. Such an exer­cise could help the com­pa­ny bet­ter iden­ti­fy its vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. A patched fence may stop the next Samuel K. McDo­nough, but what about some­one who cuts through the fence, or approach­es from the water in a kayak or rowboat?

Our ports are the gate­ways to our coun­try and our con­ti­nent for mil­lions of peo­ple and for goods and mate­ri­als made abroad. Their secu­ri­ty ought to be of para­mount impor­tance, and it does­n’t seem like it is. When a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar pas­sen­ger fer­ry can be stolen from its dock by one man in the mid­dle of the night despite being berthed in what’s con­sid­ered a secure perime­ter, it’s a sign that our port secu­ri­ty is not robust enough. This is a seri­ous prob­lem we need to address, and soon.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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