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Security concerns mar week for ferry riders

Authorities say these men acted suspiciously aboard the ferries. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Authorities say these men acted suspiciously aboard the ferries.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The FBI seeks leads on several passengers said to be too curious.

A bomb scare, some controversial photos and maintenance troubles – all in the midst of tourist season – have together equaled a few choppy days for ferry riders.

“It’s been a very active week,” said Washington State Ferries Communications Director Marta Coursey.

Passengers on Monday were greeted with fliers showing two men who had “exhibited unusual behavior” on several ferry runs over the summer, according to a release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Seattle Field Office.

That agency and the Wash­ington Joint Analytical Center are trying to identify the two men, who are not accused of any crime, for questioning.

Since their posting, the fliers have drawn some leads, said FBI Special Agent Larry Carr. They also have drawn criticism from some who say they are a form of racial profiling by the government.

Carr said that WSF employees, not the FBI, determine what constitutes suspicious activity. In this case, he said, the same men acted “unusually” on several separate occasions. The photos were taken by a ferry employee and eventually given to the FBI.

“They were looking at the infrastructure of the vessels and going into areas where only crew members are allowed to go,” Carr said of the men.

Though it’s unusual to do so, the FBI this week decided to release the photos.

Coursey said WSF crew members are trained to report suspicious incidents aboard vessels to the Washington State Patrol.

On Wednesday morning WSP bomb technicians responded to a suspicious package found aboard the ferry Puyallup, which had just arrived in Seattle from Bainbridge.

Cars and passengers had just unloaded the boat at about 8 a.m. when a crew member discovered the package rolled in carpet behind a toilet in a bathroom stall. Described by Washington State Patrolman Craig Johnson as a “bunch of duct tape rolled up into a tube,” the object was filled with several small sticks and smelled of marijuana.

Johnson said the bomb technician knew immediately that the package wasn’t hazardous, though it is being tested.

No one was arrested in connection with the incident, though police are still investigating.

The bomb scare, along with multiple maintenance problems in the WSF fleet, led to delays on some sailings for commuters this week.

As for security, Johnson said several systems are in place to keep ferry riders safe. Coast Guard boats enforce a buffer zone around vessels, while explosives-detecting dogs sweep vehicle holding areas at the terminal.

Air surveillance and plainclothes officers, who sometimes ride vessels to provide extra security, also contribute to the effort.

Just as important, Johnson, said, are the watchful eyes of ferry riders.

“If you see something suspicious don’t just ignore it,” he said.

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