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Makeshift submarine found in East River

Friday, August 03, 2007

Several people are being questioned by police after being stopped apparently attempting to set sail off Brooklyn in a makeshift submarine-type vessel.

The handmade wood and fiberglass vessel, at the end of a tow rope tied to an inflatable boat, was spotted by police near the luxury ocean liner docked at the cruise ship terminal in the Buttermilk Channel off Red Hook in Brooklyn.

"It was a strange sight," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Angelia Rorison.

Police held the artist, Philip "Duke" Riley, and two other men, both from Rhode Island, for questioning. But there was no indication the trio meant any harm with the replica of the 1776 "Turtle submarine."

One of the Rhode Island men claimed he was descendant of David Bushnell, the inventor of the original one-man vessel that inspired the replica, police said.

The makeshift sub "is the creative craft of three adventuresome individuals," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. "It does not pose any terrorist threat. ... We can best summarize today's incident as marine mischief."

The brown, egg-shaped wooden vessel was a replica of a submarine used during the American Revolution, Rorison said. The inflatable boat was towing the submarine, authorities said.

Rorison said the vessel resembled a diving bell, with a hatch on top, and was about 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. It was propelled by a pedal-operated paddle.

The Coast Guard issued two citations to Riley, 35, of Brooklyn - one for having an unsafe vessel, the other for violating a security zone. The sub came within 200 feet of the bow of the Queen Mary 2, Rorison said.

"Basically, the vessel was not safe to sail. It had no lights, no flares. It was not registered," she said. "Instead of safety violations, this could have turned into a search and rescue."

Riley is a sculptor and performance artist whose work "addresses the prospect of residual but forgotten unclaimed frontiers on the edge and inside overdeveloped urban areas, and their unsuspected autonomy," according to his Web site.

The investigation began after a New York police detective noticed the sub and the raft and summoned the Harbor Unit. Rorison said all three men were taken in for questioning by the NYPD.

"All three males are expected to be charged with a number of violations and both vessels will be secured by the Harbor Unit," the NYPD said.

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