Thursday, August 12,
By TOM QUIGLEY The Express-Times
-- A Warren County ship captain may carry a concealed weapon in New
Jersey waters and ports, state Superior Court Judge John Pursel ruled
The judge cited the post-Sept.
11 world of terrorist threats and the recent rise in the terrorist
alert system as part of the reason for his decision to grant the carrying
Authorities fear the
ruling could lead to similar requests from other civilians who would
normally face a daunting task in obtaining a New Jersey carrying permit
-- permits that are tougher to obtain than those in other states,
such as Pennsylvania.
"I would submit
that it would open a floodgate of future applications," said
Warren County Assistant Prosecutor LeeAnn Cunningham in legal paperwork
submitted to the court earlier. "For
example," Cunningham wrote, "limousine drivers, helicopter
pilots, etc. etc." She said
recent terrorist threats reported by news outlets involve those specific
But the judge ruled against
the prosecutor's office and granted the carrying permit to Hackettstown
resident Salvatore Atanasio Jr. Atanasio may only carry a gun when
operating a ship or at port and dock facilities, the judge ruled.
The ship captain had
requested a broader permit enabling him to carry a concealed gun at
other times, authorities said. Atanasio works for VIP Yacht Cruises
and Yacht Charter Networks, both out of Weehawken, N.J., according
to court papers. He is a former
merchant marine who has operated large passenger ships and other sea
vessels during the past 15 years, the judge said in his decision.
"Mr. Atanasio was
pretty clear in his testimony that the threats which he faces are
real," the judge wrote. Pursel noted the Maritime Security Level
for the waters in the New York area is at an all-time high. Cunningham
argued in part that New Jersey citizens are not entitled to a carrying
permit based only on "generalized fears" or "to protect
But the judge found Atanasio's
concerns are much broader.
is about protecting the public interest by protecting people or
the infrastructure in light of the genuine threats which have been
disseminated daily to the public," the judge
The assistant prosecutor
argued trained security professionals are available to protect ships.
But the judge found Atanasio's qualifications and past training made
him the most qualified person to secure a ship since he knows the
vessel better than anyone.
Cunningham also questioned
the validity of the carrying permit when Atanasio sails into the waters
of New York and Connecticut. Atanasio currently commands ships carrying
between 150 to 600 passengers on sailings throughout the New York
area and along the eastern seaboard, court papers show.
The captain testified
the ship's "wheel area" is protected only by a wooden door
that could easily be stormed and leave him helpless. The
captain said the ships he commands could then be used to ram a larger
He told the judge it
would take the U.S. Coast Guard anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour
to respond if his vessel were in distress while at sea. A gun would
enable him to gain some time until a Coast Guard boat arrived, he
Authorities said the
federal Homeland Security Department has made no provision for ships
captains to carry a weapon on board. Airline pilots are now permitted
to carry guns in the cockpit under specific guidelines.
Warren County Prosecutor
Thomas Ferguson said his office will not appeal the judge's ruling.
Ferguson said state law does not prevent a ship's captain from obtaining
a carrying permit. He said most carrying permits go to former police
officers who become involved in private security. "But the statute
doesn't limit it to them," he added.
Ferguson said the judge's
decision to limit the scope of the carrying permit was a good one.
"We're satisfied with the judge's decision and we're going
to leave it there," the prosecutor said.
( Reporter Tom Quigley
can be reached at 908-475-8184 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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