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Visiting sailors bring increased risks and extra security to the waterfront 

Complaints about harassment echo bigger safety concerns this summer.

Vespucci sailors dancing during their party. - CHRISTY SOMOS
  • Vespucci sailors dancing during their party.
  • CHRISTY SOMOS

The Italian navy training ship Amerigo Vespucci made an early berth in Halifax Harbour last month. Along with the vessel came its crew—men and women pressed neatly into white uniforms that drew attention from the moment they stepped onshore, not all of it positive.

During their time in Halifax, the male sailors actively recruited women to come to their “ladies only” party on-board the Vespucci with the promise of free alcohol.

On a Tuesday night, the thudding bass of Top 40 radio spilled over the Vespucci’s deck and onto the waterfront. Only women, and only women with an invitation—meant to be received from one of the sailors who call the ship home—could walk past the gate, up the swaying gangplank and onto the party ship.

The Vespucci is one of many visiting ships dropping anchor in Halifax this summer. The last week has seen thousands of American sailors in port aboard the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier. Later this month, 40 vessels from all over the world will once again descend on this town for the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta. Along with all those guests comes increased security to keep the harbour-front safe for, and from, rowdy sailors.

Waiting to come aboard. - CHRISTY SOMOS
  • Waiting to come aboard.
  • CHRISTY SOMOS

Even with a language barrier, the party aboard the Vespucci was in full swing by 10pm. Women would walk up to the packed bar and point at one of the drinks listed in English on signs taped to the flat top. Energetic Italian sailors—sweating, dancing and singing along loudly to the music—made drinks with abandon. There was seemingly no adherence to any sort of liquor laws. The amount of booze in the cup depended on the bartender—often meaning more than half of the drink was liquor.

Some sailors politely approached women and asked them to dance, others grinded up behind their visitors. One man attempted to get partygoers to drink from his cup, going so far as to hold it to their lips when the women declined. The same sailor was yelled at earlier in the night after ripping a woman’s shirt off.

The young woman, who asked not to be identified, said out of a crew of dozens it was only a handful of sailors on the Vespucci behaving in an unsafe manner.

“Not all of them are bad, but they just don’t understand the word ‘no,’” she told The Coast.

Halifax Regional Police have jurisdiction when it comes to foreign ships anchored in the harbour. The department’s ports unit is employed under a contract with the Port Authority to patrol the waterfront and harbour. Sergeant Joe Collins, who oversees port policing, says HRP is responsible for anything “considered port of Halifax property.” The unit patrols on land 24 hours a day. “As far as the water goes, it’s on a need basis and special events.”

During Tall Ships festivals, security operations expand to include the Coast Guard, Halifax Fire and Emergency, the RCMP and private security forces who will attempt to keep the peace for the 275,000 visitors expected during the festival.

“A coalition of security services and municipal entities come together to make sure every aspect of the festival is covered,” says Waterfront Development operations director Adam Langley.

Party-goers on board—only women invited by the Italian sailors—were given free alcohol with abandon. - CHRISTY SOMOS
  • Party-goers on board—only women invited by the Italian sailors—were given free alcohol with abandon.
  • CHRISTY SOMOS

Someone doesn’t have to break the law to be a bad guest, though.  The Sunday prior to the on-deck party, about a dozen Vespucci sailors made their way up to the Stillwell Beer Garden on Spring Garden Road. Manager Andrew Connell says the group was asked to leave after waves of complaints were made against them from other patrons.

Connell says he spoke to the sailors after the first complaint about their behaviour and asked them to keep to themselves, but the situation escalated when one grabbed a woman’s arm in an aggressive manner.

“Once the story had been corroborated by [the woman involved], I approached two of the remaining sailors in the garden and made it clear to them that due to their behaviour they had to leave.”

It wasn’t until the manager said the police would be called if they didn’t comply that the sailors left the premises, escorted outside to the sound of applause by beer garden patrons.

The HRP says any public event that draws crowds means they expect and plan for more calls. To placate locals and businesses alike, the US Navy Shore Patrol passed out contact cards last weekend, providing a direct line to report any issues involving their sailors.

Collins says he wants the public to know his unit is “ready to respond to anything.” Had a situation arisen on the Vespucci or any other ship, HRP officers would have the authority to walk on board and deal with it.

“Once you’re in the country,” he says, you “have to abide by the country’s laws.”

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Vol 25, No 12
August 17, 2017

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