Courtesy of Bob Trapani | BDN

Citing the need to beef up its port security capabilities, the law enforcement wing of Maine Department of Marine Resources is seeking bids for a new high-speed patrol vessel.

The new 31-foot boat would increase the number of the department’s fisheries enforcement patrol boats from five to six, and would be similar in size and style to four other rapid response vessels it has acquired since 2001, state officials said. It would be used primarily for fisheries regulations enforcement, but also would enable Marine Patrol to support the U.S. Coast Guard in safety and security operations along the Maine coast.

“This is just to upgrade an aging fleet of boats and to make sure we have the proper assets in place,” Jeff Nichols, spokesman for DMR, said.

In recent years, Marine Patrol has taken on more safety and security missions in coordination with other agencies such as the Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Patrol, and Maine Emergency Management Agency, among others, and has found that its older boats that were designed for fisheries enforcement, which tend to be relatively slow, are not well-suited for these tasks.

“The aftermath of [the terrorist attacks of] Sept. 11, 2001 and the decade and a half post-9/11 has greatly identified the need for higher performance control craft,” department officials wrote in a solicitation to boat manufacturers. “[Marine Patrol] has recently conducted active shooter training geared towards domestic terrorism in the maritime environment.”

The agency also has trained with Maine State Police for tactical boardings of vessels at sea or in port, DMR officials wrote in the document.

“The vessel must be highly maneuverable, capable of reaching speeds in excess of [52 mph] and be capable of deploying a 12-man tactical force,” DMR officials wrote.

Other rapid-response vessels acquired in the past decade by the agency, which were manufactured by New Zealand-based Protector Boats, have cost around $250,000 each, the head of Marine Patrol, Col. Jon Cornish, said.

Seventy-five percent of the not-yet-determined cost of buying another similar boat, perhaps made by a different manufacturer, would be funded by a Port Security Grant from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cornish indicated. Of the remaining cost, 18 percent will be covered by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is funded by the sales of scratch lottery tickets, and seven percent will come from the department’s 2018 budget.

The new boat would enable Marine Patrol to use one of its existing vessels for enforcement patrols in eastern Washington County, where it has an agreement with Customs and Border Protection to assist with border issues, including possible “gray zone” fishing conflicts around Machias Seal Island, which is claimed both by Canada and the United States, according to Cornish.

By acquiring a new boat for its Marine Patrol division, the agency hopes to re-assign one of its current patrol boats to be based in eastern Washington County along the U.S.-Canadian border.

Currently, Marine Patrol does not have any vessels based on the east side of Machias, which is where Cobscook Bay is located and where much of the scallop fishing in Maine occurs each winter.

Bids on providing the new boat are due at state offices in Augusta by 4 p.m., Dec. 11. The state hopes to have the new boat by mid-July of next year.