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December 2, 2008

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Jailed for being drunk in charge of a ship laden with chemicals

The Ukrainian master of a chemical tanker has been sent to prison for two months after pleading guilty to being three times over the alcohol limit while in charge of the vessel as it headed up the River Thames towards London.

Snaresbrook Crown Court heard on 19 November that Volodymyr Gonchar, 53, was reported by the ship’s pilot as appearing to be drunk while master of the Cypriot-registered tanker, ‘Elousa Trikoukiotisa’. The ship was carrying liquid ammonium nitrate from Rostock in northern Germany to the UK on 4 November 2008.

Gonchar was arrested and taken to Dagenham police station, where a breath test administered by the Metropolitan Police showed that he had 103 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit for seafarers is 35mcg in breath – the same as that for road users.

On passing sentence, Judge Hughes QC took into account Gonchar’s previous good character and record. He has since lost his job.

In mitigation the captain said he was very sorry. He said he now realised the error of his ways having been held in custody for two weeks prior to the court appearance, where he mixed with other prisoners who were in jail owing to the misuse of alcohol.

Bryan Hopkins, surveyor-in-charge at the Orpington Marine Office of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), said: “Although the limit is the same as for road drivers, I cannot emphasise enough the seriousness of this situation. Captain Gonchar was in command of a vessel that had a strict ‘no alcohol’ policy, with 15 persons on board, carrying a dangerous cargo, and transiting one of the busiest shipping areas in the world.”

The prosecution was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with legal association provided by the MCA. Gonchar breached s78(3) and s82 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 by exceeding the legal alcohol limit. The CPS did not ask for costs. Gonchar will be deported once he has served his sentence.

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