Drunken sailor: what the judge did

The drunken sailor described in a Guardian Northerner post last week, whose ‘What shall we do with..?’ headline drew many suggestions in the comments thread, has been jailed for 28 days.

The sentence on 44-year-old Russian skipper Viatcheslav Poleshchuk is conventional compared to those in the sea shanty, but Judge Michael Mettyear said that it was designed to send a message to all sea captains.

He told Hull Crown court that his scrutiny of case law, after adjourning last week to study previous, similar episodes, left him in no doubt that prison was unavoidable. An earlier hearing, at which Poleshchuk admitted being in charge of a ship while over the legal alcohol limit, was told that the skipper drunkenly asked police “Can I have another go?” after twice ramming the lock gates at Goole.

The judge told the disgraced captain, who has lost his command and job after the incident last month:

It really does seem to me that a person as drunk as you were must expect a custodial sentence. The courts must send out a clear message that a custodial sentence is inevitable.

This was really disgraceful conduct to be four-and-a-half times over the legal limit in charge of a massive boat. I accept there was no immediate danger, but there were others on board. When someone drinks as you did on board a ship, anything could happen. You were fully aware of what condition you were in.

Poleshchuk’s counsel Simon Norton said earlier in mitigation that the skipper had been told unexpectedly to leave the Yorkshire port earlier than expected with his cargo of scrap metal aboard the 3000 tonne cargo ship RMS Baerl. But the judge said:

It is not an excuse to say your sailing time had been brought forward. You could have put some else in charge or said you were not fit and delayed your sailing.

He also made a geographical point about the effect of the sentence as a warning:

I am not saying for a moment that all east European captains are guilty of this, but all the case law of drunken sea captains provided by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency enforcement unit features eastern European captains.

The judge also fined Poleshchuk £1,000 fine with £250 costs and ordered that if a wire transfer of funds from his family in Rostov failed to arrive, he would have to serve another 28 days in jail.

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