Drunken master of chemical tanker prosecuted in New Zealand

A New Zealand court has fined the master of a Panama-registered oil and chemical tanker NZD1,000 (USD680) for exceeding the alcohol limit.

Saurabh Kumar Singh, captain of the SG Pegasus was sentenced by the New Plymouth District Court on 13 December 2018, Maritime New Zealand reported.

Pilots raised the alarm after becoming concerned by Singh’s behaviour when they boarded the vessel to guide it out of New Plymouth Harbour on 11 December.

Taranaki harbour master Tony Parr told SAS that upon boarding the Pegasus, the pilots noticed the captain was unsteady on his feet, smelt of alcohol, and was slurring his words.

The pilots contacted Maritime New Zealand and an officer boarded the vessel with police.

“The master failed an initial breath test on board and then was taken to the local police station for an evidential breath test, which he also failed,” Maritime New Zealand reported.

Singh had a reading exceeding 80 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, which is in breach of the Maritime Transport Act limit of 250 micrograms for seafarers on board international ships. This is also an offence under STCW Convention and in breach of the shipping company Anglo Eastern Ship Management Singapore’s ‘dry-ship’ policy.

Police prosecuted Singh on behalf of Maritime New Zealand and the company stood him down.

Upon arrest of the Pegasus captain, the first mate assumed temporary control to take the tanker out to anchorage.

Maritime New Zealand detained the tanker for two days until a replacement master was found to meet safe crewing standards.

Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch congratulated the pilots for their quick action and the shipping company management for reinforcing their no-tolerance approach to alcohol on board the ship.

The fact that the tanker was carrying 5,600 million tonnes of methanol and was due to sail in New Zealand waters on to Nelson and Lyttleton with an impaired master at the helm exacerbates an already dangerous situation,” he told SAS.

“He didn’t just put numerous lives in danger, but also put the marine environment, local communities, and economies at risk. We have zero tolerance for this dangerous behaviour.”

This was the second case of a captain prosecuted for being inebriated in New Zealand in recent years.  In August 2017, a British captain who recorded alcohol limit five times over the legal limit while trying to dock his ship at Marsden Point in northern New Zealand was stripped of his licence and fined NZD3,000.