‘Drunk’ crew runs Malta-flagged ship aground

The Times
Herman Grech
January 24, 2007

Drunk crew members, mainly Russians, have been blamed for running a Maltese-registered ship aground off Latvia’s northwestern coast over the weekend.

Latvia’s naval coast guard service head Hermanis Cernovs told The Times that five of the nine crew members were under the influence of alcohol, including the captain.

The small cargo ship Nijord ran aground at about 11 p.m. on Sunday en route to Riga from France. The ship was carrying no cargo and had a small amount of fuel, which did not leak. No casualties were reported and the vessel does not seem to have been extensively damaged.

Before the accident, the crew had been warned to change course but did not react to warnings and radio messages, Mr Cernovs said. A tug-boat was sent to the accident area to tow the ship on Monday.

Mr Cernovs said the weather conditions were fine at the time and, therefore, the reason for the accident was down to negligence of the crew.

“The captain was totally drunk. We called him many times but he didn’t change his course,” he said, adding that the crew was mainly Russian.

The suspicions were confirmed not only by breathalyser tests but also through tests made on the seafarer’s blood samples, Latvian officials told the press.

Mr Stanislav Cakss, one of the investigating officers, told The Times that the Malta Maritime Authority has appointed a representative in Latvia to look into the matter.

Divers will soon check the extent of the damage to the vessel, he added.

Latvian Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis was also roped into the matter and voiced his anger over the second accident at sea in a week.

Mr Godmanis stressed that sailing a ship under the influence of alcohol must be punished.

“Unfortunately, alcohol is involved… we don’t need this. We have enough problems with drunk drivers already. When you add drunken sailors, it is not a normal situation.”

Last week, a Cypriot-flagged freighter ran aground in the same area due to rough seas, began leaking diesel fuel and had to be abandoned.

The Merchant Shipping Directorate of the Malta Maritime Authority said it is investigating the grounding, adding that the vessel has been refloated and is expected to proceed to Riga for Drydock inspection.