Judge suspends captain's credentials for Columbia River incident


The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — An administrative law judge decided that U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland proved its case against the captain of Portland Spirit and suspended his Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) on Tuesday, in response to an incident that occurred on the Columbia River on Aug. 1, 2015.

Lowell Gillespie Jr. was found to have violated Rule 8 of the Inland Rules of Navigation, in that he failed to take appropriate actions to avoid a collision.

The incident in question occurred during the Portland Red Bull Flugtag event when onlookers crowded the waterway, blocking Portland Spirit’s navigational route on the Willamette River. During the event, the Coast Guard attempted to escort the vessel through the area but was unable to control the movement of hundreds of recreation vessels, paddle crafts and other floating devices.

Red Bull, the event organizer, was issued and accepted a letter of warning by the Coast Guard for misrepresenting the scale of the event and failing to keep the waterways clear.

In 2015, the Coast Guard issued Gillespie a letter of warning for a violation of Rule 8 but he declined it, and the Coast Guard subsequently filed a complaint against his Merchant Mariner Credential.

George Jordan, U.S. Coast Guard administrative law judge for the hearing, stated in his decision that Gillespie “should have recognized the likelihood of a large number of vessels impeding his normal route,” and that “a higher sanction than the minimum one-month penalty” was warranted. Accordingly, the judge ordered Gillespie’s credentials to be surrendered to the Coast Guard immediately for one month. Gillespie faces an additional month of suspension if he fails to successfully complete a 12-month probationary period. The probation will commence upon completion of the suspension.

“We are pleased with judge’s decision,” said Capt. Tom Griffitts, commanding officer, Marine Safety Unit Portland. “One of the Coast Guard’s primary missions is to ensure waterway safety, with safe navigation and collision avoidance a primary concern. All operators share the responsibility to prevent vessel collisions.”

Gillespie has 60 days to appeal the ruling to the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Editor's note: Click here to view a YouTube video of the incident. The audio includes profanity.

By Professional Mariner Staff