In April, a Ukrainian ship captain was arrested and charged with allegedly operating a commercial vessel under the influence of alcohol, when he was found unfit to master the ship.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten credited a NOBRA pilot for swift and decisive action for reporting the incident and for saving the ship from a potential disaster. That NOBRA Captain was Stephen V. Streckfus.
According to Letten at a press conference held a few days after the incident, the alleged drunken officer, Yuriy Roshkalyov, was reported by Captain Streckfus, who called the St. James Sheriff’s Office and the Coast Guard to report the incident around 9:30 pm on Sunday, April 16.
River pilot groups, such as NOBRA, are required under state law to guide ships along the Mississippi River, because they are experts at navigating the difficult system. The ship’s master is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. It is customary for the two to meet before a ship leaves port to discuss operating plans, said Rear Adm. Robert Duncan, commander of the New Orleans-based 8th Coast Guard District.
Docked at a terminal in Gramercy and loaded with grain, the ship was destined for Mexico. On Sunday, April 16, the NOBRA pilot asked for Captain Roshkalyov as he boarded the Leeds Castle. He was told the captain was “not well.” When he finally met with Roshkalyov, he smelled alcohol on his breath and refused to sail the ship.
A St. James Parish Sheriff’s deputy and the Coast Guard officer who responded to the incident noted that the master’s attitude was combative; his eyes were bloodshot and his speech was confused, according to a statement released by Letten’s office and reported in the Times-Picayune. In addition, Roshkalyov’s blood alcohol concentration level was .252, six times the legal limit. A person operating a commercial vessel in U.S. waters is considered intoxicated if his blood alcohol level exceeds .040.
At the press conference, Letten said, “He performed his job extremely well. That NOBRA pilot refused to serve that vessel, refused to get it underway. This was as good evolution as one could ask from a river pilot. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Admiral Duncan said that in his three years with the health the local coast guard district, four other ship captains have been arrested on intoxication charges. All were convicted and at least one was barred for one year from operating ships in U.S. waters. “These ships are like 18 wheelers of the waterway and that’s why it is important to keep them safe.”
According to NOBRA Executive Director, Captain Bud Watson, the regulations for drug use are in place to keep our waterways safe. We salute the excellent job of NOBRA Capt. Stephen Streckfus. “It is vital to our work of safeguarding the Mississippi.”