Port Authority puts more water patrols around JFK

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The Port Authority has put in place interim security patrols in the waters around Kennedy Airport following a weekend incident in which three youths docked their inflatable raft on a runway’s edge and wandered for an hour in restricted areas.

Pasquale DiFulco, a Port Authority spokesman, said the agency is very aggressively looking into perimeter areas at the airport after the three young boaters gained access to the site without encountering any security measures.

“What happened out there on Sunday is unacceptable to the Port Authority,” DiFulco said. “We take security very seriously here.”

Pointing out that the Port Authority now has a record number of officers, DiFulco said the agency was implementing what he called “interim” measures along the perimeter of Kennedy Airport.

He also said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had earmarked funds to reinforce security systems at the sites it guards, which include JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, the public transit system and tunnels and bridges.

Neither the New York Police Department nor the U.S. Coast Guard commented on whether they had similar plans to beef up security around Kennedy Airport. New rules put into effect after Sept. 11 were supposed to restrict where boaters could sail and limit their access to potential terrorist targets like Kennedy Airport.

But widespread questions about the ability of people to reach Kennedy Airport through its surrounding waters came just days after Joel Phagoo, 21, of Brooklyn, was forced to dock on a runway because he feared his inflatable raft would be swallowed up by rough tidal waters, Phagoo’s aunt said in a phone interview.

“They said it was very scary, they thought that they would lose their lives,” said the aunt, who would not give her name. “The current was too rough, their boat started to spin and they could not go back to where they came from.”

Repeated phone calls were not returned by the NYPD or U.S. Coast Guard.

Phagoo was in his water craft with his younger brother and cousin, the aunt said. She said the trio set sail around 6 p.m. on their usual route and then had to dock at JFK around 8:30 p.m. because of the rough waters.

In the end, the three walked around the runways at Kennedy Airport for an hour before they found a Port Authority Police garage and asked for assistance, the aunt said.

“There was no one there to help,” the aunt said. “They had to walk all the way.”

Jamaica Bay Guardian Don Riepe, who heads a two-year pilot program that is studying the health of Jamaica Bay, said he was not surprised that Phagoo, his brother and cousin were able to gain access to Kennedy Airport. He said the airport’s large size makes it difficult to completely seal it off from potential security threats.

“You could have all the patrols you want, but people can still access the airport,” he said. “If people want to go by boat anywhere around it, they can get to the airport.”

Riepe was quoted in a TimesLedger article July 31 examining the safety in the waters around LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports as saying he had not noticed any increase in boat patrols since the Sept. 11 attacks.

DiFulco said Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations and environmental protection measures in Jamaica Bay limit the amount of fencing and other security measures the Port Authority can implement.

The new rules for boaters, drafted by the U.S. Coast Guard, advise boaters sailing in Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay to keep safe distances from airports, bridges, tunnels and other tourist sites. A Coast Guard manual tells Queens boaters not to fish near Kennedy or LaGuardia Airports, and not to anchor near or under the Queensboro, Whitestone or Throgs Neck bridges.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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