Early Sunday morning TV news in Seattle usually offers pedestrian reports on traffic, the weather and scores from last night’s games. But recently the newsies and their viewers snapped awake as the highjacking of a ferry unfolded in Elliott Bay off the city’s waterfront.
Long lenses showed the Clipper IV, a 132-foot high speed passenger ferry, rocking in choppy seas as it turned aimlessly in circles. Soon, a small fleet of police and Coast Guard craft arrived, along with a tug.
The story: A little before 0500 hours a 33-year-old convicted sex offender somehow scaled a security fence at the Victoria Clipper terminal on Seattle’s downtown waterfront and somehow got aboard and into the pilothouse of Clipper IV. He was able to start the vessel’s twin engines (the keys apparently had been left onboard).
No one else was aboard and he was able to get the vessel moving. The thief had not cast off mooring lines and the deck cleats ripped away.
Darrell Bryan, executive officer of Victoria Clipper, came to work at 0500 and saw the 30-knot ferry drifting just off the company dock, according to media reports. Soon, other waterfront operators began calling to offer assistance. After determining that none of his captains were aboard the boat, Bryan called the Coast Guard. The Seattle Police Department sent a hostage-negotiation team and even federal customs agents got involved.
Not knowing home many were aboard, the law enforcement teams moved cautiously. The SPD team was able to put a cell phone aboard and began talking with the man in the wheelhouse. Bryan, in his office, monitored AIS signals and watched the ferry drift south and then north and near a rocky patch off the Elliott Bay Marina. Clipper IV is steered with a joy stick system and the thief, although adept enough to master engine starting, could not steer it and the ferry turned in circles as it moved along the city’s waterfront.
The Coast Guard helped the tug get a line aboard and several hours after the vessel was stolen it was back at its home moorage and police arrested a man they identified as Samuel K. McDonough, a resident of Preston, a rural area southeast of Seattle. Police said he has been convicted of misdemeanor indecent exposure and for drug, burglary and DUI offenses.
He was held in jail for investigation of burglary, reckless endangerment, malicious mischief and for failing to register as a sex offender.
Police said McDonough told them he took the ferry to go to West Seattle, which is reached easily by city streets. A small ferry runs from that community to downtown Seattle weekdays, but it was not in service that morning.
Victoria Clipper operates a fleet of fast ferries that carry tourists to Victoria and into the San Juan Islands. Clipper IV is a catamaran capable of carrying 330 passengers and a crew of 5 to 10.
Bryan told the media he had been in the business 28 years and the theft of the ferry was the first of its kind. “You just don’t hear of anything like this.”