A UK national 30-year-old officer on UK-flagged general cargo vessel Scot Carrier (IMO 9841782), who admitted to being drunk at the time of a collision that claimed the lives of two Danish seafarers onboard the self-propelled barge Karin Høj (IMO 8685844), has been found guilty in a Danish Court of involuntary manslaughter.
He was banned from sailing in Danish waters and will be deported from Denmark after serving his sentence. He will also be banned from re-entering for 12 years, and will not be allowed to operate a ship in Danish waters for an indefinite period in the future. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the families and $7,000 in fines.
The Scot Carrier was en route from Latvia to Scotland when it hit the Karin Høj on December 13th last year when the vessels were in a busy shipping lane between the Swedish coast and the Danish island of Bornholm. The latter capsized almost immediately with two crewmembers on board, of whom one was found dead aboard the ship and the other remains missing presumed dead.
During the case in Copenhagen City Court the accused confessed to his crimes, and admitted being on a phone call at the time and drinking prior to his watch> he said that he was solely responsible for the collision.
Swedish authorities learned of the collision when they received a signal from the emergency beacon aboard the Danish vessel. They launched their search and ordered the Scot Carrier to return to the scene. It returned about 30 minutes after the collision. The vessel was detained and the Swedes initially took into custody the chief officer and the first officer, accusing them of being intoxicated.
The chief officer was later released. The first officer, who was on duty as the helmsman, was remanded in absentia and later extradited to Copenhagen to stand trial.
The man admitted to drinking prior to going on duty at 11pm, but said that he believed it was safe to navigate the vessel. A review of the vessel’s voice data recorder and navigation records showed that he entered a course change into the autopilot shortly before the collision. The helmsman was the only person on the bridge, which was a violation of company policy and navigational regulations.
He told the court he had looked out the windows and checked radar, but did not see anything. He then went back to a telephone call he was making via an app on his phone. He said less than 15 seconds before the collision he saw a white light to starboard and tried to reverse engines, but it was too late. He felt a “deep bump” knocking the Scot Carrier off course, while the voice records from the bridge captured him crying out multiple times “Oh my God…”
He immediately started forward propulsion telling the court he needed the power to regain control of the ship.
Asked why he did not stop the Scot Carrier he said that he was confused and had panicked. After regaining control he continued on the fixed course. The captain later came to the bridge after a call from the Swedish Coast Guard.
Blood alcohol testing of the helmsman conducted by the Swedes revealed a level of 1.15, which is well above the legal limits in Denmark and Sweden.
The accused was also charged with leaving the scene without providing help or assistance to the crew of the Karin Høj.
“I would like to say how sorry I am,” the helmsman said during his sentencing. “I am ashamed of my unprofessional behaviour in the hours up to… I am so sorry.”
In accepting his guilty plea, the court sentenced him to a year and a half in prison.
The Danish Meteorological Institute said that the fog at the time of the collision was not dense and that conditions would not be termed unusual for the time of year.
The motor hopper was travelling from Sodertalje in Sweden to Nykobing Falster in southern Denmark, while the Scot Carrier was sailing to Montrose.
1977-built, Denmark-flagged, 408 gt Karin Hoj is owned and managed by Hoj A/S of Horsens, Denmark.
2018-built, UK-flagged, 3,450 gt Scot Carrier is owned by Scotline Ltd of Romford, Essex. It is managed by Intrada Ships Management Ltd of Rochester, Kent, UK.