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Homeless man held after high-speed ferry commandeered in Seattle

By Bryan Cohen

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A homeless man accused of leaping a fence at the Seattle waterfront and briefly commandeering a high-speed ferry used to shuttle passengers between Washington state and Canada was in jail on Monday with bail set at $200,000.

U.S. authorities say Samuel Kenneth McDonough was able to set the high-speed catamaran adrift into the region's Elliott Bay shortly before dawn on Sunday, his 33rd birthday, with no one else on board before authorities intervened to stop him and found he had locked himself in the ferry's wheelhouse.

"It first appeared the clipper ship was adrift," Seattle police said in a statement. "However, when a tugboat went to retrieve the boat they discovered there was a man on board."

McDonough told police he was trying to take the 330-passenger ferry to its regular destination of Victoria, in nearby British Columbia, according to court documents released on Monday. Police had earlier said he wanted to take the boat to West Seattle.

McDonough, who documents said was homeless, was arrested on suspicion of burglary, malicious mischief, reckless endangerment and on an outstanding warrant for failing to register as a sex offender, King County Prosecutor's office spokesman Dan Donohoe said.

The incident puts a spotlight on security involving ferries in Washington state, which came under scrutiny over a decade ago when an Algerian man was arrested as he tried to enter the United States from Canada at a ferry landing in Port Angeles, Washington, with plans to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.

Known as the "Millennium Bomber," Algerian Ahmed Ressam was later sentenced to 37 years behind bars over the 1999 incident.

Clipper Navigation Inc, the company that owns the Seattle ferry, said it had beefed up security in response to the incident, topping its fences with razor wire and hiring an outside firm to conduct an audit.

Investigators looking into the incident had yet to determine a motive for commandeering the ferry. To get onto the vessel, McDonough climbed up on a ledge and through a small opening in a 7-foot (2.1-meter) security fence, Clipper Navigation CEO Darrell Bryan told Reuters.

He boarded the craft through an open door, finding an operations manual and the key to the ignition inside, Bryan said. McDonough then followed directions in the manual to start up the vessel's two diesel engines.

"He's not stupid," Bryan said. "We had engineers who have had challenges with starting these engines."

McDonough was not able to steer the vessel, Bryan said, which eventually caused the engines to shut down.

Tugboat workers at the Foss Maritime Company noticed the ship drifting and went to help, boarding the ferry and finding McDonough locked in the area of the bridge, McGraw said.

They called the Coast Guard and police, according to a post on the Seattle police website. A SWAT team negotiated with McDonough, eventually arresting him, police said.

The Victoria Clipper IV is 132 feet long, 33.3 feet wide and can reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour (56 km per hour), according to the company's website.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Tex., Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Bryan Cohen in Seattle; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston, Maureen Bavdek, Bob Burgdorfer and Lisa Shumaker)

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