St. Charles parts the waters

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 14, 2012



LULING – With a steady and strong north wind adding an extra element to the normally strong current of the Mississippi River, the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday showed off its newest tool for maritime security in a custom-made 27-foot aluminum deep-vee-hull boat designed specifically for the typically treacherous river.

Sheriff Greg Champagne said the Sheriff’s Office utilized a $145,000 grant from the Port Security Grant Program through the Lower Mississippi River Portwide Strategic Security Council to purchase the vessel along with the truck and trailer needed to haul it. Champagne said the Sheriff’s Office also contributed about $55,000 toward the purchase.

In a 30-minute demonstration for members of the media and officials with the Port of South Louisiana, the boat and its two-man crew easily managed the normally dangerous waters where a smaller vessel would have trouble. Champagne said the boat will serve as another tool for law enforcement agencies assigned to provide security to the port.

“This vessel does things that other smaller boats in our fleet are not capable of doing,” said Champagne. “It not only helps us in security, it also enhances our presence and availability for other river incidents, such as recovery and industrial accidents.”

Champagne said the boat has onboard radar systems with the capability to add sonar equipment, which is something that had been limited in the past. He referenced an incident last year in which the Sheriff’s Office had to call in outside agencies and help from other parishes to aid in the search and recovery of Brian Reed, the brother of Baltimore Raven Ed Reed, who drowned in the river last January.

“We learned a lot of lessons from that incident,” Champagne said. “The river is very dangerous and even more so when the water levels are higher than normal. When you get those larger logs floating up from the bottom, a smaller boat is much more dangerous. This boat can be used in the river, but it can also go into other waterways in the parish safely.”

Metal Shark, a company in Jeanerette that has built numerous boats for the United States Coast Guard and other government and military agencies, manufactured the boat. The vessel is powered by twin 250-horsepower Yamaha four-stroke outboard engines and is capable of a top speed of 56 miles per hour. It is equipped with the latest navigation and communications equipment, emergency lighting, a hoist mechanism, a dive door and a hard T-top for boarding large vessels or surveillance.