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Radio New York International - History (3)

It subsequently transpired that when Al Weiner and his colleagues were arrested and taken from the Sarah the authorities had produced no search, seizure or arrest warrants, nor was there any documentation from Honduras authorising the forcible boarding of the vessel - as had originally been claimed by the Coastguards when they arrived alongside the radio ship.

Weiner, Jeffries and Smith were eventually charged with "conspiracy to impede the functioning of the United States Government" (i.e. challenging the FCC's authority) and violating an international agreement - the 1984 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreement to prohibit broadcasts from offshore stations. These charges were spurious and ill-conceived because neither Honduras nor the United States, amongst many other countries worldwide, had enacted domestic legislation to enforce the ITU agreement. Interestingly there were no specific charges against the three men of violating FCC rules governing broadcasting to or within the United States.

At the subsequent Court hearing the magistrate raised some questions about the powers of the FCC (which is largely  a regulatory body) to arrest the men and seize their equipment, issues which remained unanswered at the time. Weiner, Jefferies and Smith were released without bail on condition that they reappeared at Court again 30 days later and in the meantime did not engage in broadcasting of any kind.

A month later, on 27th August 1987, just minutes before the three men were to re-appear in Court they were informed that the prosecution was dropping all charges against them. The authorities had decided that the case against the operators of Radio New York International - and doubts about the procedural legality of their arrest - was too weak to stand up to scrutiny in Court.

Free from the threat of prosecution Al Weiner and his associates now made plans to obtain re-possession of their ship and equipment while at the same time filing claims against the US Government for illegal arrest and $50,000 worth of property damage. They also appealed to the many people who had supported them at the time of their Court appearance for financial donations and practical help, so that Radio New York International could be put back on the air as quickly as possible.

After Al Weiner had successfully repossessed the MV Sarah she was taken back to Boston Harbour for repair. A new generator and $70,000 worth of broadcasting equipment was installed in a programme of work which took almost a year to complete. However, when the Sarah left harbour again on 17th July 1988, towed by the tug Munzer, the US Coastguards gave chase and boarded the ship demanding to inspect her registration papers and sailing orders. Finding only an expired Honduran registration document the Coastguards decided that the ship was violating an order which had been imposed on her the previous year to remain in port. The Captain of the Munzer was instructed by Coastguards to tow the Sarah back to her berth in Boston Harbour or face a fine of $25,000 a day. Coastguards and harbour officials strenuously denied that the FCC had requested them to detain the radio ship in port, although Al Weiner claimed that this was the motive behind their actions.

On 10th September 1988 the Sarah finally managed to leave Boston Harbour and anchored early the following morning at a position four and a half miles off  Point Lookout, Long Beach, Long Island. The ship lay at anchor in this position for over a month without any sign of broadcasts being made -Operations Manager Randi Steele said: " We don't intend to go on the air until we've established a legal right to do so." He also claimed that the ship's new registration was being finalised so that when  Radio New York International did return it could legally stay on the air, hopefully without interference from the FCC. In fact the ship, which was said to have been sold to a British company, was being registered with Roy Bates's Principality of Sealand, sited on Roughs Tower off the Essex coast of England. However, Sealand was not recognised for ship registration (or any other) purposes by the US Government although those behind RNYI were either unsure of this fact or chose to ignore it.

The return of Radio New York International just after 8.00pm on 15th October 1988 was heralded by a test signal on 1620kHz (185m). A RNYI station identification announcement was made at 9.00pm and then continuous music played throughout the night until the early morning hours of 16th October 1988.

The FCC were swift to take action against the offshore station's return to the airwaves and on 17th October 1988 it applied to the US District Court seeking a temporary Restraining Order forbidding the station to broadcast. Once the Order had been granted by Judge John J McNought FCC officials arrived aboard a US Coastguard cutter alongside the Sarah at 10.00pm that same evening. They attempted to serve the Restraining Order, but the crew of the radio ship refused to allow the officials on board the Sarah  arguing that they were a legally registered vessel anchored in international waters and not bound either  by the Court Order or the rules of the FCC.

The Coastguards then asked whether a member of the Sarah's crew would come on deck and take the Restraining Order from them, but again the radio ship's crew refused because they did not want the officials getting close enough to forcibly board the vessel as had happened the previous year.

Having failed to physically deliver the Court Order the Coastguards then read its provisions to the crew of the Sarah over the maritime radio, after which they formally asked the Captain of the radio ship, Josh Hayle, whether he was going to comply by ceasing RNYI's transmissions. After taking about ten minutes to consider their position Josh Hayle informed the Coastguards that those on board the Sarah would comply with the Restraining Order. They feared that if they did not agree to comply the Sarah would once again be forcibly boarded at gunpoint by the authorities and all radio equipment damaged or destroyed.

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