Skipping through the waves near Richmond's long wharf, where tankers unload their crude for the nearby Chevron oil refinery, Coast Guard patrol boats with mounted 40-caliber machine guns intercepted a cabin cruiser provided by the local Coast Guard Auxiliary.
On Saturday, perhaps by coincidence, the Coast Guard and its Contra Costa County and Richmond city enforcement partners could get a chance to do a real round-up of boaters deliberately encroaching on the same facility.
"I find it suspiciously coincidental that the Coast Guard has decided to do this demonstration so close to the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion," said Oakland resident Jessica Bell, organizer with Direct Action to Stop the War, which is helping organize Saturday's 11 a.m. "blockade" of the refinery with boats, bicycles and the bodies of antiwar protesters.
But the Coast Guard, which invited reporters and television crews onto its 87-foot cutter to witness the security demonstration, was only trying to warn boaters to avoid such excluded areas, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Kevin Neff.
"It just happened to coincide," said Neff, who organized the press event. "For me, putting this together, there wasn't any correlation between the two.
Neff said Coast Guard officials are aware that the demonstration is planned for Saturday, however.
Tuesday's Coast Guard excursion was one of a series of informational events leading up to National Safe Boating Week, May 17-23.
"Additionally," reads an agency press release, "the Coast Guard reminds boaters that it periodically establishes safety zones, and maintains fixed security zones in certain specified areas of the San Francisco Bay, as well as around certain vessels that transit through the bay. "These security zones are necessary to ensure public safety and prevent sabotage or terrorist acts in specific locations."
What authorities didn't address Tuesday afternoon was how they would deal with non-terrorists encroaching on the security zone.
Saturday's demonstrators say they plan to deliver a message against the Iraq War, President Bush's energy policy and Chevron's expansion plans.
"If they do violate the security zone, the procedures will be handled the same," Neff said.
That means authorities, either Coast Guard and/or county and city marine patrol officers, will shout amplified warnings for the boats to change course. Then the boats will be directed to a safe distance outside the security zone, where the vessels will be boarded and checked for possible threats and violations of safety regulations.
If the protesters intentionally violate the zone, they could face up to six years in prison and $250,000 in criminal fines or up to $32,500 in potential civil penalties.
Bell said the Coast Guard ought to join the protest, like Richmond Mayor Gail McLaughlin plans to do. McLaughlin has accepted an invitation to speak at a land-based rally outside the refinery against the war and air pollution, said her aide, Marilyn Langois.
The City of Richmond also participated, along with Alameda and Contra Costa counties' sheriff's departments, in the demonstration enforcing the refinery's security zone.
Contact Erik N. Nelson at email@example.com or 510-208-6410.