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Suspect held for taking high-speed ferry in Seattle

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A 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 on Sunday 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, 33, told police he had been trying to take the ferry to West Seattle, the statement said. He was arrested on suspicion of burglary, malicious mischief and reckless endangerment, a spokesman for the Port of Seattle said.

The ferry McDonough is accused of commandeering, a 330-passenger catamaran, is normally used to take foot passengers between Seattle and Victoria, in nearby British Columbia.

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.

In this weekend's incident, authorities said it was not immediately clear how McDonough got on the ship, nor how he managed to start the engine, said port spokesman Peter McGraw.

But once the vessel was ripped from its moorings, it began to drift.

"He didn't have any experience on vessels like this," McGraw said. "It's a very complicated vessel to operate ... all he was able to do was get the vessel unmoored and it just began floating away."

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.

While the court set bail at $200,000 on Monday, prosecutors had asked for $1 million.

The Victoria Clipper IV is 132 feet long, 33.3 feet wide and can reach speeds up to 30 knots, according to the company's website.

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

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