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Saturday, July 3, 2010

US Coast Guard Threatens Journalist With Felony Charges

Georgianne Nienaber: Facing the Future as a Media Felon on the Gulf Coast

The United States Coast Guard considers me a felon now, because I "willfully" want to obtain more photos like these to show you the utter devastation occurring in Barataria Bay, Louisiana as a result of the BP oil catastrophe. If the Coast Guard has its way, all media, not just independent writers and photographers like myself and Jerry Moran, will be fined $40,000 and receive Class D felony convictions for providing the truth about oiled birds and dolphins, in addition to broken, filthy, unmanned boom material that is trapping oil in the marshlands and estuaries. We don't have $40,000 to spare, and have had to scrape the bottoms of our checkbooks as is to hire boats to take us to the devastation the Coast Guard, under the direction of BP, does not want you to see.

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Is this photo worthy of a felony conviction?
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Absorbent boom reality
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What BP and Coast Guard does not want you to see
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God forbid you should see this
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It is now a felony to take more photos of birds like this, wading through oil that broken booms have trapped in rookeries

Here is what PB wants you to believe--kayakers enjoying a peaceful paddle in pristine waters. Does the new boom law apply to them, as well? If so, it is time for BP to redo its public relations photography, unveiled at a community meeting in Houma, or we will have a ton of kayakers as well as journalists clogging Louisiana courts and prisons.

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BP Public Relations photo displayed at community meeting in Houma in early June

One to five years in prison is a definite possibility for "willful violation" of the latest Coast Guard directive that flies in the face of the First Amendment. And, I guarantee you that writers and photographers will continue to try our best to use cameras and words to explain to those who have not been there exactly what is happening on our Gulf Shores. If we don't continue to try, Americans will no longer see the images and read the words that have been a voice for the voiceless fishermen and women, coastal residents of the Delta, and the battered wildlife.

Working and reporting from American Gulf Coast is starting to remind me of working in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where photos and recordings must be hidden on secreted flash drives at border crossings, and where interrogation by drunken border patrols certainly follows if one does not provide a proper "explanation" for visits to certain regions. In 2007 I was accused of being a "spy" and held by the secret police in Goma, DRC for having video of illicit "conservation" activities. Now the same sick feelings of fear, anger and helplessness is stalking my mind as I try to plan for the next round in south Louisiana. Never in my lifetime could I imagine that a foreign company could dictate my ability to move freely and openly in American territorial waters.

Already we have been challenged by the private security firm, Talon, on the oiled beaches of Grand Isle, and hassled by the Coast Guard and Louisiana Wildlife officials for not wearing flotation devices when it was not necessary. The law was on our side then, now the "law" is being used to limit free speech.

What's next? Will media be totally shut down? Will we face assassinations like journalists do in Rwanda? I realize assassination is over-the-top, but when it crosses your mind, even for a moment, you know something is terribly wrong.

On June 30 there was an uptick in press releases flowing from "Unified Command." The notice of the Coast Guard felony directive was buried along with EPA test results on Corexit, Thad Allen's "official" retirement from the Coast Guard, notices about NOAA, oiled wildlife-- at least nine press releases in the space of a few hours.

Ordinarily, these propaganda pieces go in the file folder. The media ban disguised as a safety rule jumped out, but there was much analysis to do regarding the EPA test results on that day. So, the bogus 20- meter (65 feet) "safety zone" surrounding all Deepwater Horizon booming operations and oil had to wait until I could wrap my head around the implications. Frankly, I wanted to ignore it.

The coast Guard directive states, "The safety zone has been put in place to protect members of the response effort, the installation and maintenance of oil containment boom, the operation of response equipment and protection of the environment by limiting access to and through deployed protective boom."

That statement is the most egregious smokescreen we have encountered on this story. No one is maintaining the boom in Barataria Bay. Boom must be anchored, cleaned and replaced. This is not happening, and the Coast Guard, which reports directly to President Obama, does not want you to see this.

Why aren't boom maintenance laws enforced? Instead, reporters now become felons for showing the American public the utter mess the Coast Guard, federal officials and BP have created in our once-beautiful waterways.

Here is one boom plan that is not being implemented.

"The boom is not working ... it is a joke," says Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, at a Thursday Senate hearing. "It washes up on the shore with the oil, and then we have oil in the marsh, and we have an oily boom. So we have two problems."

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has said that the boom only works in open ocean.

Another under-reported aspect of this story is that the dispersant Corexit has done its job of hiding the catastrophe so well that booms cannot stop the oil. It slips, snakes and slides under the booms, which are inherently worthless in shallow waters, as Landrieu says.

Here is what the Ports and Waterways Safety Act directs. Is the Coast Guard ensuring the environmental protection of Barataria Bay? It is not, and Thad Allen and BP and the federal government do not want you to see the images that bring that fact home.

The Coast Guard has a statutory responsibility under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 (PWSA), Title 33 USC §1221to ensure the safety and environmental protection of U.S. ports and waterways. The PWSA authorizes the Coast Guard to "...establish, operate and maintain vessel traffic services in ports and waterways subject to congestion.

In fairness to beleaguered information officers at Unified Command, there is one woman who has been trying to be helpful on several information fronts. I sent her this question:

Have you heard about the Coast Guard regulation (new) about booms and staying 20 meters away. Does this apply to unmanned booms? There is a felony penalty. Does this mean no boat traffic in Barataria Bay? It is hard to stay that distance if you are near the boomed islands.

Her response was immediate and we cannot hold PIO officers accountable for the regulations. She did sum it up in no uncertain terms.

The safety zone applies to ALL boom. In the case of Barataria Bay, the statement made in the press release," In areas where vessels operators cannot avoid the 20-meter rule, they are required to be cautious of boom and boom operations by transiting at a safe speed and distance," would apply.

Do you want to see more photos like this oiled dolphin in Barataria Bay, taken by Jerry Moran?

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Copyright Jerry Moran

Permission to enter any safety zone must be granted by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans by calling 504-846-5923. Perhaps the American public should start calling him and demand that our rights of free speech and expression be reinstated in Gulf waters.


Note: I am removing all copyrights on my work. Spread these photos far and wide.



5 comments:

Georgianne said...

Thanks for picking this up, but want to make clear we are not under arrest, but will be if we try to take any more photos or video.

Georgianne Nienaber

Threat Applies to ALL JOURNALISTS who dare disobey the directive, which has been slightly modified to require "embedding" since the storm of criticism began this morning.

Deepwater Horizon Response said...

Hi there,

I am serving at the Unified Command as part of the Deepwater Horizon Response effort.

A few weeks ago, we announced that boom vandalism was becoming a significant issue in our on-water effectiveness (here is the release and PSA: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/671091/). The response we received from the general public was positive, with many sharing our PSA on social networks and on other online platforms.

Unfortunately, vandalism of boom has not stopped, despite our best efforts. Action was required to ensure our operations achieve maximum effectiveness. As a result, the Coast Guard introduced a safety zone around boom to prevent vandalism and to protect the members and equipment of the response effort by limiting access to, and through, deployed protective boom. Here is the URL to the release that announced the safety zone: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/726955/ .

I wanted to offer some additional thoughts on this:

- The safety zone that has been established for the Deepwater Horizon Response was created specifically to provide a regulatory means to prosecute people who are vandalizing boom that has been placed to protect a way of life for Louisiana.

- The safety zone in no way limits legitimate access to areas around boom and spill operations. Media has NEVER been denied access.

- Boom has been placed to protect areas that are vital to a Louisiana way of life. People who intentionally cut or purposely damage boom are harming our ability to effectively keep oil out of areas that are environmentally sensitive and culturally important.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything additional information I can provide that would clarify the intent of this new regulation. We are here to ensure media have access to our daily around-the-clock operations - requests have not been denied.

Best regards,

Petty Officer Rachel Polish
Unified Area Command
Deepwater Horizon Response

Deepwater Horizon Response said...

Hi Everyone,

We just released a statement on concerns about recently enacted safety zones for your review. Here is an excerpt:

“Last week Coast Guard Captains of the Port in the region put in place limited, small waterside safety zones around protective boom and those vessels actively responding to this spill. This was required due to recent instances of protective boom being vandalized or broken by non-response vessels getting too close. These 20-meter zones are only slightly longer than the distance from a baseball pitcher's mound to home plate...In fact, these zones, which do not target the press, can and have been opened for reporters as required.

 It is unfortunate that the safety zones are needed at all, but the responsibility of officials is to wage the most effective and safest response possible while best supporting factual and open reporting. That will continue until BP caps its leaking well and the cleanup is complete."

The full statement is here: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/737751/

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Petty Officer Rachel Polish
Deepwater Horizon Response

The Mad Ape said...

@ Petty Officer Rachel Polish

Yes the wind and the waves are causing all sorts of vandalism. You had better figure out a way to detain them.

You can put them right beside journalists whom you now label as felons for daring to show photos of the destruction your puppet masters have caused.

You seem like a nice girl but a naive as a kid who still believes in Santa Claus.

Please wake up and see this for what it is: A corporate whitewash of the largest human-caused disaster in recorded history. That is all that matters. We do not want to hear you propaganda and rhetoric.

Vandalism be damned.

Anonymous said...

Petty Officer Rachel Polish is revealed to be neither nice nor naive.

Georgianne Nienaber who wrote the post above has more on this. She apparently has been too busy revealing corporate shills to update here and so I'll do this for her.

Go here
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/coast-guard-media-liaison_b_635209.html
to get the details.

Here is just a whiff of the rotting smell:

"It was Petty Officer Polish's right to offer commentary and within readers' rights to offer positive and negative commentary on my post. This is the age of interactive media after all. What absolutely floored me were the number of tips that came in on my Facebook page from concerned citizens of the Louisiana Delta and elsewhere. This information offered the possibility that Petty Officer Polish was a paid public relations operative for BP, working in her capacity as a Coast Guard reservist.

Did my post inadvertently provide a bully pulpit for BP and Coast Guard propaganda?

Could this be true? As it turns out, there is plenty of room for concern regarding this apparent marriage of public relations and a government agency, especially when the PR firm that employs Petty Officer Polish is the same PR firm that represents BP.".....

This little collection of conflicts:

"In her own words, Polish is a media liaison for the Coast Guard, a Coast Guard reservist, a photographer for the Coast Guard, a branding and media specialist, and is working for Ogilvy, whose client is BP, "Creating engaging experiences designed to promote awareness, brand loyalty, advocacy and conversion.".....


Knowing that then there are more questions and suspicions:

"It is no surprise that Polish has latched onto the Huffington Post as an "engaging experience." One has to ask the question, "How many of the additional negative comments directed at social networkers who criticize BP may have been encouraged by Polish's 'coordination?'

It is a legitimate question. Sure, "trolls" are everywhere in comments sections, but to have them here because the Coast Guard and BP are paid to make sure they are here is the proverbial horse of a different color."

Looking at the name of this site- Is Petty Officer Polish just a little low on the comprehension- or just so sure she won't get outed?

By the way- the vandalism claim is also refuted at the link.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/coast-guard-media-liaison_b_635209.html

Petty Officer Polish-WTF?