Coastguard, plods swoop on fake Facebook yachtmaster
Eight month manhunt, DNA sampling for internet pirate
A 29-year-old yachtswoman used an image of a sailing qualification found on Facebook to charter a yacht last summer, according to the UK government.
No harm was done and she paid the charter company in full but, nonetheless, crack Coastguard operatives and nautical plods swung into action. A mere eight months later the maritime malefactor had been nabbed, though a merciful government spared her any jail time. Needless to say, however, her full biometrics have now been added to government databases.
According to the government:
The woman hired a yacht in the summer of 2007 from a South coast charter firm whose conditions of hire were that the charterer should provide a valid MCA/RYA Yachtmaster certificate. The woman in question submitted a photocopy... later found to be a forgery. The matter was reported to the Enforcement unit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
The Marine Unit of Dorset Police carried out a full investigation... and on the 22nd February the woman attended Bournemouth Police Station. The decision was made to release the offender with a caution... she was of previous good character, the yacht was returned undamaged and the charter was paid in full... the individual now has her DNA, fingerprints and photograph on file. If she should come to the notice of the Police... she will go to court.
For those not up on the yachting scene, the Yachtmaster qualification is one of the higher yachting qualifications endorsed by the UK government, requiring a lot of time and expense to obtain. It includes various skills which some might argue are not strictly essential to safe handling of a yacht day-to-day. (Many charter firms run profitable RYA training courses.)
However, neither Yachtmaster nor any of the lesser, more reasonable tickets are a legal requirement. Anyone can take a yacht to sea under UK law - provided they have the owner's permission.
Every year around the UK large numbers of yachts, a smaller proportion of fishing vessels and even a certain number of big, heavily certified ships go to sea and do wildly stupid or dangerous things. There are near misses, collisions, groundings, and wrecks. People get lost overboard, drowned, injured. Rescue personnel both pro and volunteer have to risk their lives, frequently unnecessarily. All the while, boats and things on boats get stolen with almost unfettered rapacity.
Most of the people responsible for all this never suffer any significant consequences.
Against this background the idea that it makes sense to have a "full" MCA and police investigation, eight months after the fact, to hunt down, caution, and DNA sample a young woman who had done nothing dangerous and stolen not a single penny seems bizarre to say the least. But the MCA seems to be proud of its efforts - enough, at least, to issue a press release.
Indeed, the coasties actually seem to think they've struck a blow against some kind of fictional plague of fake Yachtmasters. Captain Andrew Phillips of MCA enforcement said:
"Seafarers should never publish copies of their certification on the internet. If you have already done so then you are strongly advised to remove them immediately. Having the document on the internet allows them to be copied, and then abused."
So the appearance of a genuine Yachtmaster certificate is to be a secret. Which might make it a bit hard for (say) the admin staff of a charter firm to identify a real one, not being initiates of the guild. In the unlikely event that such a silly secret could ever actually be kept. ®
The writer is a former professional seafarer, having stood bridge watches for eight years and served as navigating officer for two of those. He was also for some of those years an RYA-qualified sailing instructor.
The good thing is that the curtain twitchers haven't managed to get their hands on stopping people from taking jolly big boats out to sea with no experience, and to suffer even death from their stupidity, or to come back having enjoyed it.
The Boatmaster is the legal certificate that lets you carry passengers for money and such like, Yachtmaster being a very well regarded voluntary certification, that lets you skip some of the Boatmaster exams but doesn't have any legal status AFAIK.
The fraud is wrong of course, but that 29 year old had planned on renting a yacht with her false certificate and heading out to sea. The DNA , photo and swabs are probably to make sure she doesn't try anything exciting without proper supervision and controls in place. Yes I know it was a wrong thing to do, but recently mostly anything is.
Bottom Line analysis
OK, The lady committed fraud and forgery at the very least. Both are considered to be serious crimes. The fact that nothing bad happened as a result is really irrelevant. She still committed those acts against the charter company. They should have followed due dilligence and validated her certification... I assume there is some method to do so. If not, they certainly need to establish an ability to check the certification. It's not that hard with the technology available today. A phone call or an online check would verify that CERT#51745 belongs to Bill Smith, a 5'11" caucasian with brown hair and blue eyes, rather than some dame with a big rack.
Did they over-react by using the manpower to pursue an 8 month investigation??? Probably, but as stated by someone else there is a "perceived value" associated with the certification. If there really is an ongoing issue with forgeries, that will discredit the merit of that certification.
I think they were rather fair overall... no real harm came, so she just got a slap on the wrist, along with having her identity positively logged to make it clear to her that she can't get away with this again. End result, the MCA shows that they take care to protect the value of their certifications.
Was the DNA sample necessary or legally attained? That's questionable, but if she refused, they would simply proceed with pressing charges to the full extent of the law, then obtain the DNA sample while she was incarcerated.
Personally, if I attempted to attain a charter and they said I didn't have the certifications they required, I'd simply take my business elsewhere... as mentioned, it's not that hard to get a charter if you know the difference between a halyard and an anchor.
Dorset for sure.
This was Dorset where even living is punishable by death. We have a nice few speed cameras sorting out the evil motorists freeing police time for pursuing other serious criminals, such as the boating fraternity.
They do actually make up offences down here liberally applying the law as they see fit. An acquaintance, passenger in a crashed car, got "done" for "refusing to provide" a breath test even though he was not driving and was in asthma attack mode brought about by shock. Solicitors said it would be thrown out but not down here! Guilty as charged. This woman would have been threatened with court and, being Dorset, probably capital punishment for piracy, but would have been given the option of accepting a nice caution to admit she had been naughty. They don't actually point out that the caution is the same in the eyes of the law as going to court and pleading guilty.