Technology is supposed to be a good thing for shipping but there are always some ready to use it for the wrong purposes. To the list of possible problems such as GPS jamming and cyber attack, must now be added a new threat.
Multiple laser strikes during the past month aimed at commercial vessels transiting the Chesapeake Bay are being investigated by the US Coast Guard. Four incidents occurred this week when in a three hour period on Wednesday, Wallenius-Wilhelmsen’s car carrier Salome, a Capesize bulker Bulk Spain, and the Panamax bulker AM Annaba and a pilot vessel were targeted. Other recent incidents involved Hoegh Osaka; the cruise ship Carnival Pride and Maersk Kolkata.
During all incidents, the laser light was described as steady, powerful and somewhat painful to the eyes. The reporting source believes the laser originated in the area between Drum Point and Cove Point, and lasted for approximately 15 minutes. “Laser lights, and other bright lights can be a hazard to navigation,” said Lt. Trish Elliston, Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region. “The most likely scenario is the laser would blind or distract a pilot which would prevent the pilot from seeing a smaller vessel. This could cause a collision or other serious incident in the shipping channel.”
Under US law, using lasers to knowingly and willfully cause or attempt to cause bodily injury by shining, pointing, or focusing the beam of a laser pointer on an individual operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft is an offence with penalties up to 10-years imprisonment.
Whatever the reason behind the incidents – hopefully just ignorance of the possible consequences – ships heading to ports such as Norfolk and Newport News should be made aware of the possibility of a problem.