Lives have been put at risk in Southampton Water by lasers being targeted at ships, it has been revealed.
Red Funnel ferries and patrol boats are among the vessels that have been the targeted.
Now maritime bosses have welcomed tough new sentences for those who target ships, aircraft and vehicles with lasers.
The move, which came into force yesterday, has been praised by Southampton harbour master Captain Phil Buckley.
Anyone shining or directing a laser at ships, aircraft or road vehicles could face a prison sentence of up to five years, an unlimited fine or both, under new laws.
The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act expands the list of vehicles beyond just aircraft and makes it easier to prosecute offenders by removing the need to prove an intention to endanger a vehicle.
Commenting on the new legislation at the start of Maritime Safety Week – which runs until July 13 – Captain Buckley says: “Anything that improves safety on the water has to be welcomed.
“We have had incidents in the port when vessels have been targeted by lasers, including one of our patrol vessels.
“People who shine lasers at ships are putting lives at risk and we welcome this timely intervention.”
Lee Gallacher was serving as a crew member on one of the port’s patrol vessels when he experienced first-hand how dangerous lasers can be.
“It was back in October 2017 and we were escorting a large car ship when suddenly the whole wheel house was lit up.
“It’s human instinct to look for the source of the light and that’s when I was caught by a couple of flashes.”
He suffered temporary flash blindness lasting 48 hours. But despite making a full recovery the outcome could have been far more serious.
Red Funnel crews have also been targeted by lasers.
Fran Collins, Red Funnel’s CEO, says: “Although infrequent, we have experienced instances of our bridge teams being affected by lasers. These situations can pose risks during night-time navigation as the distraction and loss of night vision can impede situational awareness.
“Red Funnel welcomes any new laws that discourage these sorts of disturbances and help keep our passengers and crew safe.”
The cap on the amount offenders can be fined – which is currently limited to £2,500 – has been removed, paving the way for substantial sanctions. Fines could be issued in isolation or alongside a prison sentence.
The police will also be given new powers to catch those who misuse of lasers.
This story is from the Daily Echo.