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Key West Vs Cruise ships.

Old 12-08-2002, 12:26 AM
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Default Key West Vs Cruise ships.

Coast Guard keeps a watchful eye over races, homeland


KEY WEST -- When Capt. Joe Nimmich, commander of Coast Guard Group Key West, looks out his office window he can see Key West harbor and is reminded that he is ultimately responsible for the safety of everything out there.

"Boating safety has always been the Coast Guard's concern, especially in the Keys," Nimmich said. "With the Homeland Security Act, 'safety' has taken on a whole new meaning."

Nimmich's most recent safety concern came during the November powerboat races.

"There wasn't supposed to be a cruise ship in the harbor during that weekend," he said, his voice firm. "I told Lee Mills there would be no race without a course change."

It wasn't any easy decision for Nimmich to make because he was aware of the financial boon the event would be to the city.

"We were able to adjust the race course," Nimmich said. "And it was all done to the benefit of most everyone. But having the cruise ship in port caused a tremendous water-land security problem for me."

Meeting what Nimmich called "shore-side" security was easier than what he considered the needs to secure waterside security. Last minute negotiations resulted in moving the race course to where Nimmich felt he was able to keep a security zone in the harbor.

"In hindsight," he said last week in his office, "the racecourse was still too close to the cruise ships."

When asked what he would want for next year, Nimmich smiled and thought before he said anything.

"I don't want the race next year if a cruise ship is in port," he answered. "The race course would have to be so far offshore that spectators couldn't watch it and I don't think the city or promoters want that."

The safety of the cruise ships from an accident during the boat race is as much a concern as a terrorist attack during the races against the ships.

"We had one race boat flip because of the wind and wave action," Nimmich said. "I want to avoid that kind of safety problem as much as I want to avoid a terrorist attack. It all comes down to safety."

Next week Nimmich will be sending a letter to the city outlining his concerns and listing his suggestions. He has concern for cruise ship safety even while powerboats are speeding past the ships on their way to an offshore course. He expects to be involved with the city and promoters in discussions about next year's event and looks forward to having a solution before the situation comes down to the wire, like it did this year.

"If something happened to a cruise ship in this harbor it has the potential to devastate the economy of Key West," he said. "An attack on a cruise ship anywhere will devastate the cruise lines and affect Key West. My first and foremost concern is to see that an attack doesn't happen here."

As a safety matter, Nimmich is also concerned with high speed races coming too close to docks filled with people, as well as the spectator's boats around the course.

"The city and promoter have 11 months to work this out," Nimmich said. "That should be enough time to schedule the event and avoid my safety concerns. Everyone is really trying to make the races happen, and that's a good sign."

Lee Mills has already asked to meet with Nimmich to help smooth out security concerns.

"Capt. Nimmich's first concern is safety," said Mills. "And he is correct in his focus. We have worked well together during the past two years and I am confident we will find an answer that satisfies most everyone."

Mills said there is a meeting scheduled with the city on Monday.

"We are all looking for the solution that will keep the race in Key West," he said.

City Commissioner Merili McCoy said safety is also the city's concern and the city understands Nimmich's Homeland Security concerns as well.

"Capt. Nimmich is a fair and responsible person," McCoy said. "He understands the city's problems and never asked for anything unreasonable form us."

If all Nimmich's concerns are taken care of for next year he still realizes not everyone will be happy.

"Unscheduled things pop up during the day of the race that can cause problems," he said, and smiled as he recalled closing the harbor after one of his Coast Guard boats reported a manatee in the water. "It put everyone off schedule, the race and opening the harbor, so there were a lot of unhappy people."

Nimmich pointed out that in December, 81 cruise ships will come into Key West.

"We are responsible for those ships as they come in, stay in port and go out," he said. "It's a big responsibility on a normal day and one we take seriously everyday."

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This story published on Sat, Dec 7, 2002
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Old 12-09-2002, 11:00 AM
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snglstack,we're sure gonna work on it!!!!!!
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