Captain transporting injured deck hand arrested for intoxication

The master of a landing craft was arrested for drunken operation after the vessel got stuck in an Alaska harbor while he was transporting an injured deck hand, who had broken his arm in an anchor chain.

The U.S. Coast Guard also discovered that the captain was unlicensed.

The injury aboard Sealander happened at about 0200 on Oct. 27 when the 53-foot vessel was seeking shelter from rough weather near Anchorage. The two-man crew reported that the vessel had just departed Anchorage on a planned voyage to Kodiak. They interrupted the trip in Cook Inlet and were anchored near Fire Island when the deck hand was hurt.

"They had some trouble with the tide or the wind or both. Somehow he got his arm tangled in the chain and he got his arm broken,” said Anchorage Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker.

The captain decided to deliver the injured crewman to shore at Anchorage's small-boat landing.

"Coming in, he knocked over one of the pilings. He got it a bit askew, and when he did that, the tide was on the way out," Parker said. "The port side of the bow was hung up on the side of the embankment, which is concrete blocks. They were afraid the boat would roll."

At the time the landing craft anchored near Fire Island, winds were 15 knots out of the south-southwest, said Lt. William Albright, a Coast Guard investigator. The crew already had decided to head back to mainland Anchorage, which is only about three miles from the island.

"The weather kicked up a little bit and they decided they'd better get out of there," Albright said. "While they were lifting the anchor, the cable became bound. While trying to get it unbound, the crewmember's arm got caught in it." Parker said the vessel's winch is midship on the port side.

Parker said the captain was a 59-year-old male. Albright said the deck hand was a 25-year-old male.

Eager to get the injured man ashore, the captain attempted to move Sealander alongside the concrete embankment. After striking the piling, the vessel banged into the concrete and ended up aground.

"He didn't bring it to the normal mooring station because he didn't have an extra crewmember to help him tie it off," Albright said. "He wanted to get in there real quick. But the tide went out so fast that he didn't have time to maneuver the vessel around, and the vessel was able to just sit there on the bottom until the next high tide floated up."

The injured deck hand was transferred to an ambulance. He was treated at a hospital and released. The vessel refloated with minor damage to the ramp but no spill, the Coast Guard said.

Anchorage police charged the master with operating under the influence, Parker said. The suspect's blood-alcohol level was more than one and a half times the state's legal limit of .08 percent. The Coast Guard requires a level below .04 percent, meaning the Sealander captain's alcohol content was allegedly more than three times the Coast Guard's limit.

The Coast Guard wasn't informed of either accident until about an hour after the grounding, which happened at about 0400. Upon further investigation, the Coast Guard learned that the master had not yet earned the proper merchant mariner's credential, Albright said.

"The gentleman was unlicensed," Albright said. "He stated that he was in the process of attempting to get his license."

The burden of proof is on the Coast Guard to establish that a voyage is for commercial purposes. Albright said that's still under investigation. He said Sealander had the required Certificate of Documentation.

The vessel's owner, Swenson Marine Service, offers Sealander's services for the transport of cargo and freight. Owner Dave Swenson didn't respond to e-mail or phone call requests for comment.

The police jailed the captain on the drunkenness charge. He remained in jail in late November 2011, pending a future court appearance in Anchorage municipal court.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff