Judge wonders what to do with the drunken sailor

A judge in Hull has settled down with his law books to try to find the answer to the famous old question in the sea shanty: what shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Hull Crown court heard that the fate of Viatcheslav Poleshchuk, who crashed twice into Goole lock gates on the Humber and then asked police in a vodka-slurred voice “Can I have another go?”, posed a legal brainteaser.

The estuary’s combined ports are the busiest in the country, and a skipper with a bottle of vodka freshly inside him, as Poleshchuk admitted he had, is no laughing matter in charge of a 30,000 tonne scrap metal carrier in such waters. The 44-year-old captain was more than four times over the drink-drive limit with 157 milligrams of alcohol in his blood compared to the legal maximum of 35 when he was arrested last month.

Officers found him looking glazed and unsteady on his feet and heard that he had refused to accept help from a local dock handler to ease the 100m-long RMS Bell out of its 105m berth. Prosecutor John Thackray said:

He was warned how difficult it was but he would not listen. Eye-witnesses described him as being ‘all over the place.’

The court heard that it was not unusual for ships to hit the lock gates but it was rare for this to happen “so forcefully and so hard.” Judge Michael Mettyear told Poleshchuk, who admitted being over the alcohol limit for a ship’s master:

It is outrageous to be in charge of a great big vessel like this while over the drink limit. It is monstrous.

He added that his instinct was “a custodial sentence, but not a long one.”

A decision was deferred, however, after the skipper’s barrister Paul Norton said in mitigation that marine case law for collision seldom included jail sentences. The court heard a brief rehearsal of drunken crashes at sea which had ended in prison terms, including a grounding in the Outer Hebrides and a collision with a North Sea oil rig, but in all cases and air-sea rescue had been necessary and lives had been put at risk. This was not the case in Goole.

Northon said that Poleshchuk had drunk heavily before setting sail because the original departure date was a day later. He had intended to hand over to his first mate and go to bed as soon as the voyage was properly under way.

Stuck in a Goole hotel pending the trial, he had also lost his master’s certificate and had a wife and two children at home at Rostov in Russia. They had offered to wire £5000 if the court was thinking of a fine.

Deferring final sentence, Judge Mettyear sent Poleshchuk down for a week. He then told the court that he needed more time to research case law on drunken captains, as well as waiting for confirmation of the money transfer.

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