Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WA State Ferry System

Click on photo for Website

Mike Diehl has an excellent book out about the Washington State Ferry System (WSF). I ride the ferries once or twice a month to downtown Seattle (Bremerton to Seattle or Fauntleroy-Southworth) and often like to walk around and photograph. I'm especially fond of photographing on and from the car deck where all the obvious safety and mechanical parts of the boat are on display, see photo gallery (click on WSF and name of ferry boat).

It's one cool subject for a photographer. Everything clearly marked and easy to see and find. Simplicity at it's best. And yet while I've taken lots of images of ferries, I've also been stopped and detained from disembarking twice, once by the Captain and once by a Washington State patrol officer. All the while I have a letter from Shawn Devine, WSF Public Information Officer, which states:

"I forwarded your letter to our Safety and Security Department. They indicate that there is no law prohibiting photography aboard WSF vessels in public spaces. You are welcome to shoot your camera in any public locations. Our crews are trained to be alert to any suspicious activity aboard state ferries including what might be "unusual photography." There is no hard and fast definition of what "unusual photography" is.

Our Safety and Security Department indicates photos of areas where there is secure access, locked doors and safety equipment are examples of what might constitute "unusual photography" activity. I understand that you were questioned by a WSF Captain about photos you were taking aboard a state ferry. I do apologize for this. Our crews takes safety and security seriously and were probably being proactive about the situation.

Carrying a business card or identification badge to identify yourself to WSF crews is a good idea. I want to assure you that you will not be detained because you are taking photos of our vessels."

But the WSF also publishes and circulates a pamphlet on ferry boats which reads:

"Report suspicious persons, objects or activities immediately to a crewmember or law enforcement personnel. This includes unusual photography of ferry operations; people displaying heightened interest in restricted areas or taking notes while observing ferry operations; and suspicious waterside activities on or around the dock and ferries."

All of this happened after two men of Arabic ethnicity were reported riding 4 ferries in two days. They came aboard as walkons, the WSF has video and photos of them (the boats are thoroughly covered by cameras), and the WSP and FBI have interivewed many people, but to date, the two men have not been identified let alone found. But I was and am an easy target as a citizen?

So it's always confused me why the WSF does this. And why they can't issue photographers passes we can carry and/or wear to alert the crew we're ok and approved to be there with a camera. But all that said, the book is excellent and I highly recommend it if you're not living here. We can simply ride the ferry.

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