It was a strange and potentially alarming sight: an egg-shaped, odd-looking vessel being towed by an inflatable boat and foundering in a security zone near the docked Queen Mary 2. In the end, the curious craft that caused a scare Friday proved to be part art project, part historical experiment, but no threat, authorities said. It was a replica Revolutionary War submarine, manned by a Brooklyn artist.
"We can best summarize today's incident as marine mischief," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement, describing the makeshift sub as "the creative craft of three adventuresome individuals."
Police spotted the handmade wood and fiberglass vessel Friday morning near the luxury ocean liner, which was docked at the cruise ship terminal in the Buttermilk Channel off the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
Police questioned the artist, Philip "Duke" Riley, 35, and two other men, both from Rhode Island. The Coast Guard issued Riley two citations, one for having an unsafe vessel, the other for violating a security zone. Police issued Riley two additional summonses, alleging reckless operation of a craft and towing in a reckless manner.
But authorities said there was no indication the trio meant any harm with the replica of the 1776 "Turtle submarine."
"I feel bad that I probably took up a lot of people's time and maybe scared a few people," Riley told WNBC-TV later Friday.
The vessel was a replica of a submarine used during the American Revolution, Coast Guard Petty Officer Angelia Rorison said. One of the Rhode Island men said he was a descendant of David Bushnell, the inventor of the original one-man vessel that inspired the replica, police 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 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.