Captain lay sleeping as ship hit rocks

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A CARGO ship ploughed through seas off Scotland for at least an hour before running aground on the coast of North Uist as the captain, who was supposed to be on watch, lay unconscious in his cabin.

At Stornoway Sheriff Court yesterday, Captain Konstantin Golubev, 41, of St Petersburg in Russia, blamed prescription drugs and a lack of sleep because of a series of personal and work problems for falling asleep on a sofa in his cabin after going below to fetch papers, when he should have been on the bridge on the lookout for hazards.

The captain pleaded guilty to two charges. He was fined a total of £3,500 after he admitted not altering course to prevent damage and failing a breath test with a blood count of nearly four times the legal limit after drinking vodka while in charge of the ship at Stornoway harbour, which it eventually reached a few days later.

The 6,000-tonne Dutch-registered bulk carrier MV Flinterspirit was on its way from Sweden to Belfast with a cargo of timber and steel plate and coils when it crashed on to rocks on Flodday Mor on the south east tip of North Uist at around 10.45pm on Monday last week.

Procurator-fiscal David Teale told the court that the second officer was awoken by the ship lurching some time after the grounding. He rushed upstairs to find the bridge unmanned. He roused the chief officer and they both went to the bridge which was still unattended. They went to the captain and found him on his sofa bed. They returned to the bridge and after 20 minutes returned to the captain’s cabin where they found him sitting up but apparently unconcerned about the situation.

None of the crew was injured and no pollution was found. After an underwater inspection at Stornoway, the Flinterspirit was eventually allowed to continue to Belfast with her cargo.

The captain’s solicitor told the court the captain was under severe pressure because of a faulty gyrocompass, finding the first officer unconscious after he noticed the ship had passed a lighthouse near Sweden on the wrong side and because his pregnant wife was suffering medical complications.

The captain had bought over-the-counter medication for anxiety in Russia which he was taking regularly. The solicitor said that he had taken three tablets at 4pm although he was due to take over the watch at 8pm.

He agreed that the main issue was that the captain appearedto have been absent from the bridge for at least an hour.

He said Capt Golubev earned only about £22,600 as a recently promoted master who had been at sea for 18 years. The captain’s career with the company would now be over, he said.

Sheriff David Sutherland said the consequences could have been far more serious, with loss of life. He fined him £500 for being nearly four times the blood alcohol limit.

For letting the Flinterspirit go on the rocks on North Uist, the sheriff said the maximum fine was £10,000.

However, as the captain had admitted his guilt at the earliest opportunity and had a good work record, he reduced that fine to £3,000.