Cruise ship captain fails breath test
Officer stripped of command, would be fired, company says
P-I STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES
Coast Guard officers removed the captain from a Celebrity cruise ship in Seattle on Friday afternoon after he failed a breath-alcohol test during a routine safety inspection.
Friday afternoon, a Coast Guard inspector "noticed alcohol on the captain's breath," Petty Officer Tom Winter said.
A team of additional inspectors from the Coast Guard's Seattle Sector boarding team were called to the scene to administer the breath test -- and found the captain to be under the influence of alcohol, Winter said, with a blood-alcohol content level above 0.040, the federal limit for operating a vessel in U.S. waters.
The company said the captain would be fired. The staff captain assumed command, said Michael Sheeham, spokesman for parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
The Mercury, which has a capacity to carry 1,884 passengers, was delayed in port at Pier 66 for more than an hour before departing at 6:30 p.m., under the direction of another captain.
Such incidents are rare, Coast Guard officials said.
"Certainly, we've dealt with other intoxicated boaters before," said Winter, of the Coast Guard's District 13 office. "But I can't think of any other similar incident involving the captain of a vessel this large."
The incident prompted a Coast Guard investigative team to be dispatched from the Jackson Federal Building downtown to the cruise ship. The team boarded the vessel, Winter said, and sailed with the ship to the pilot station at Port Angeles.
The cruise company's policy forbids any officer from consuming alcohol within eight hours of reporting for duty, Sheeham said, noting that Royal Caribbean's policy is twice as stringent as international maritime regulations.
"The captain's actions are totally unacceptable. He has been stripped of his command and ordered off the ship," said Dan Hanrahan, president of Celebrity Cruises, in a statement. "Any shipboard employee, from the captain down, will be dealt with as swiftly and severely."
Celebrity Cruises sails weekly during spring and summer from Seattle to Alaska from the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, where the ship was moored during the incident.
The Coast Guard said the cruse line fully cooperated with the investigation.
Lt. Cmdr. Rick Rodriguez of the Coast Guard said the captain was being investigated for operating a commercial vessel under the influence of alcohol, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
Federal law considers someone operating a vessel legally intoxicated if his or her blood-alcohol concentration level exceeds 0.040.
"This incident should send a clear message to all mariners operating in U.S. waters that operating any vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious threat to the safety of other mariners, the general public, and maritime commerce and transportation," Rodriguez said in a statement. "Such behavior will not be tolerated, and violations will be enforced to the fullest extent."
__________________ Ready to Steer towards another cruise
Wow. For some reason I never even thought of a Captian sailing intoxicated - I don't know why I was so naive. Guess because those ships are so huge that I just couldn't imagine doing it impaired.
Glad these guys were on their toes.
wow, we are about to board this ship in few days for sail to alaska. sure hope the new captain is familiar with the ship and the ports of call. since he is on the ship i assume he has made that voyage a few times...
What a surprise--that's a low level reading compared to driving laws in NY-- .05 is impaired & .08 for intoxicated but still I would think the captain would be sober at all times---esp when the ship is due to depart port!
As an ex-crew member, It's not at all unusual to see people off duty drunker than hell. Most people know when to stop, though.
When you live and work in the same place, things like consuming alcohol become work issues as well. Captain should have known better and been a lot more responsible. No excuse for being on duty with a BAL at all with a ship of 77K tons.
Celebrity's company line on this is garbage. If you go to the crew bar on a port night, the company policy is that nobody is supposed to be over 0.08 BAL, and on duty it is 0.04. However, in practice this is never enforced uniformly, and if they breathalyzed everyone at the crew bar, there would be nobody still employed to run the ship :-)
Congrats to the coasties for catching this one. It is excellent work on their part. Staff captain was kind of a tool when I was there, but he sure as heck knew how to run the boat. It's in good hands.
My wife and I had the fantastic privilege of dinning with this Captain back in May 2005.
Since we knew other Captains, hotel managers and other higher crew we monopolized the conversation that evening. A very personable individual.
I'm not justifying the Captain's condition when the coast guard felt necessary to remove him from the bridge. This Captain made a poor judgment call.
He is 46 years old and had a promising career ahead. It is really a shame that this Captain happen to be at the point he was. The Captain is always subject to duty but does have time to relax and have a libation with the staff captain in charge.
I have a good friend in Greece that is writing an article about this whole situation and if it goes will be posted when accepted. Hopefully we all will see the true bottom of this scenario.
The Captain is out on bail with a hearing the first part of June. His career is gone.
I'm going to follow this story and research what ever I can for the out come.
I've seen passengers disembark the ship that are still intoxicated from the night before to climb in a 3000 pound vehicle and drive home from a port. A complete menace on the highway. Granted it is not a 95,000 ton ship but still an alcohol blood level way higher than this Captain.
There is no excuse for bad judgment when piloting any type of mechanical device being on the road or in the water.
Just my 3 cents.
__________________ Ready to Steer towards another cruise