Officials raise security questions after Seattle ferry theft

SEATTLE — Officials are reviewing security for a commercial U.S.-to-Canada ferry service after they say a sex offender managed to take off in one of the ships from the Seattle waterfront, a theft that risked collisions in busy Elliott Bay.

Samuel Kenneth McDonough was arrested by a SWAT team that boarded a Victoria Clipper seven hours after it motored away and drifted in the bay Sunday.

McDonough, 33, was jailed for investigation of burglary, reckless endangerment and malicious mischief.

Prosecutors are asking for a high bail at a Monday afternoon hearing to hold him until charges are filed, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County prosecutor’s office.

Port of Seattle police are investigating.

Many are wondering how the ferry was pirated away.

“We were very, very fortunate this individual did not run into a state ferry or grain ship out by the grain terminal,” Clipper Vacations CEO Darrell Bryan said Monday. “It was a hell of a wake-up call.”

Bryan says the intruder apparently climbed through a gap over an 8-foot chain link fence to enter Pier 69, where Clipper ships make daily runs from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia.

He somehow boarded one of three Clipper ships and started the engine on the 132-foot catamaran. He untied a couple of ropes but broke or damaged two cleats — metal fittings used to tie ships down — to clear the dock.

“We think the guy knew enough to get going but not enough to handle the hand controls,” Bryan said.

Bryan had arrived early for a meeting with captains and noticed one of his ships drifting away. He called the Coast Guard. Seattle police and Port of Seattle police also responded. Negotiators tried for hours to talk the man into surrendering but eventually the SWAT team boarded the ferry.

A bomb-sniffing dog checked the vessel before it was returned.

The man had taken a laptop computer from the wheelhouse and perfume from an on-board duty-free shop, Bryan said.

The company is reviewing its security with the help of a maritime consultant and also talking about the incident with the Coast Guard, Bryan said.

Barbed wire has already been strung through the gap the skinny intruder crawled through, Bryan said. It’s unclear how he started the engines.

“This should never have occurred,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been able to get into the wheelhouse. It’s supposed to be locked.”

McDonough was convicted of indecent exposure in 2005, 2008 and 2012, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Norah West. He’s on a GPS monitor, which is how many homeless sex offenders are tracked.

He had been jailed for violating conditions and was released on Wednesday and outfitted with a new GPS device.

McDonough told police he wanted to cross the bay to West Seattle.

“We would have preferred he found another means,” Bryan said.

There could have been severe damage from the uncontrolled 480-ton vessel with 1,300 gallons of diesel on board.

Victoria Clipper is popular with tourists and ferries about 300,000 passengers a year, mostly to Victoria.


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