When it comes to anti-terrorism efforts in Los Angeles County, securing the Port of Los Angeles is major priority. According to police, an incident that would shut down the port could cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion per day.
Therefore, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcement Bureau, Homeland Security Division, patrols the area with a fleet of boats, one of which features anti-terrorism technology that allows it to scan ship hulls for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
Ocean Rescue II is operable every day, and has been used in a large-scale marijuana bust and to recover wreckage from plane crashes. Now, the sheriff’s department, thanks to a $3 million Homeland Security Grant, is looking to purchase a second such vessel.
“It’s impossible to be too prepared,” said Joel Bellman, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s press deputy.
The board of supervisors last week approved the sheriff’s department pursuit of the grant. Bellman said the county “would be derelict” for not attempting to secure every funding source possible, especially when it pertains to public safety.
“Nobody wants to find out after something happens,” he said.
Lt. Jack Ewell, who has worked on Ocean Rescue II since it hit the waters off of L.A. County three years ago, said the first vessel requires a lot of maintenance. A second anti-terrorism boat would lessen that impact, he said.
Ewell said the second vessel will be built exactly as Ocean Rescue II. The boat, which was built by Willard Marine in Anaheim, is 55-feet long, equipped with sonar equipment and has a remote underwater vehicle that can remove bombs from the bottom of ships or dive 3,000 feet underwater for evidence, he said.
The vessel has been used for a variety of purposes, including the recovery of a plane crash that occurred in 1955 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with two crewmen aboard. The T-33 fighter jet was located in the ocean near the airport in 2009, a welcome development for the families of the two crewmen.
“They’d never had any closure,” Ewell said.
He said 22 captains operate the vessel, and crewmembers must undergo 1-1/2 years of extensive training in order to be eligible. With the Port of L.A. being such a “sensitive area,” extensive training is a necessity, Ewell said.
“It’s very important to maintain a secure area there,” he said.
Bellman said L.A. is a high-profile target for terrorism, so enhanced safety measures to prevent them are of high importance.
He referenced the attempt to bomb LAX in 1999, when Los Angeles was targeted as part of the 2000 millennium terrorist attack plots.
“That’s the kind of thing that reminds us that we can be and are a target,” Bellman said.
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