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Alert pilots stop drunken ship crew

The bulk carrier was steaming down Chesapeake Bay when the pilots discovered the crew had been drinking

The bulk carrier was steaming down Chesapeake Bay when the pilots discovered the crew had been drinking

What do you do with a drunken sailor? Maritime authorities answered that question in March when they discovered that the crew of the 328-foot dry bulk carrierOcean Victory, sailing out of Baltimore and down Chesapeake Bay, was intoxicated.

The Polish captain and his four crewmembers from the Ukraine and Russia were sent back to their home countries after they were arrested and handcuffed on board. The evidence was two 12-packs of Budweiser and enough beer breath to alert the pilots who boarded the Ocean Victory in Baltimore to guide the ship to the Atlantic.

The captain, Wojciech Kowalski, 62, is “charged with failing to ensure that the wheelhouse was constantly manned and that each person manning the wheelhouse was competent to perform that duty,” according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore. He faces up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine for this and other offenses, including making false statements.

Yevgen Bystrov, 39, of Ukraine, the second officer, faces the same fine and imprisonment for making false statements to officials. Additionally, he and three other “essential” crewmen face a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for being drunk on duty.

The pilots involved weren’t permitted by their association to discuss the case. According to an affidavit filed in federal court in Baltimore, Capt. Allison Schulte, a member of the Association of Maryland Pilots, boarded the Ocean Victory in Baltimore to help guide it through the Bay and to the ocean, 150 miles to the south. She was accompanied by two other pilots, Kevin Hanna and Gregory Lukowski. Lukowski, smelling alcohol on the breath of one crewman, told Kowalski he did not want that crewman involved in the ship’s departure.

The impaired crewman was gone from the bridge when Ocean Victory left the dock, but 17 miles later both Kowalski and the helmsman, Volodym Voychenko, left the bridge, “leaving no member of the ship’s personnel in the wheelhouse,” the affidavit states.

“Schulte went to Kowalski’s stateroom and demanded the wheelhouse be properly manned,” the document continues. The captain sent Voychenko back to the bridge as an assigned lookout, but now Schulte smelled alcohol on his breath. The subsequent dialogue between Schulte and Voychenko was punctuated twice when the crewman shoved the pilot’s shoulder, according to the affidavit.

One of the other pilots, Hanna, saw Voychenko was holding a “large knife” as he argued with Schulte. The affidavit says Hanna took the knife from Voychenko and placed it near the helm in the wheelhouse. The ship’s captain later moved it to the chart table, the affidavit says.

At some point, as the Ocean Victory steamed down the Bay, Kowalski returned to the wheelhouse and talked with Voychenko, but the three pilots had seen enough. Near the mouth of the PatuxentRiver, about 55 miles south of Baltimore, Schulte and Hanna anchored the Ocean Victory and left the ship.

Later that day, a Coast Guard team boarded the ship and handcuffed the ship’s oiler, who had become belligerent and refused to take a breath test. The other crewmen, however, submitted to the test. Their blood alcohol levels ranged from a low of 0.145 to a high of 0.283. The second officer, Bystrov, had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.193. The legal limit for driving an automobile in most, if not all, states is 0.08.

The next day, Kowalski told another Coast Guard investigator that “while under way, he never left the wheelhouse for more than three minutes to go to the bathroom or get a cup of coffee,” the affidavit says. Moreover, he told the investigator that he knew the crew was drinking alcohol before the ship left the dock in Baltimore. He allegedly said that he was told by another crewman that Bystrov “was too drunk to come to the wheelhouse for his watch. Kowalski stated it would have been more dangerous to return to the Port of Baltimore, Md., with his crew drunk and would be safer to get to open water.”

Bystrov told investigators he had bought two bottles of Budweiser beer for $5, drank them and threw the empty bottles in the trash on the ship. He voluntarily showed the investigator an empty bottle in his stateroom trash can, the affidavit says.

“At that time, [the investigator] saw, in plain view, two 12-pack Budweiser cases on top of a locker,” the affidavit says. “Bystrov then admitted he lied and had purchased the two 12-pack Budweiser cases with twenty-three ($23) U.S. dollars and drank between seven and eight Budweiser beers.”