Pollution and Reckless Operation
June 10, 2009
Jacob Barnett, the skipper
of the Westward, was also sentenced on a charge of operating
a boat in a reckless or negligent manner. Judge George imposed
35 days in jail for the offense but suspended 30 days and provided
that the five remaining days could be satisfied by 40 hours of
community work service. Judge George also imposed two years of
probation with the understanding that the state would move the
court to terminate the probation after one year if Barnett completed
the community work service.
The impact punctured both sides of the hull creating a 4' x 10' hole on the port side and a 2' x 3' hole on the starboard side. Diesel and other oils leaked from the hull to the surrounding waters. Passengers on an over-flight of the grounding observed a long sheen in the vicinity of the boat (Photograph 2). However, it is unclear exactly how much diesel or oil was discharged to the adjacent waters. A majority of the fuel and diesel that was on board was lightered off the boat during the response action.
The Westward ran aground after Barnett left the wheelhouse unattended with the boat on autopilot. When Barnett returned to the wheelhouse, he found the boat had changed course and they were close to the shore. Barnett tried to disengage the autopilot and change course, but could not do so before running aground.
The waters of Southeast Alaska are subject to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS). The COLREGS require all vessels to maintain a proper lookout, to remain apprised of their surroundings and the risk of collision and to operate at a speed that allows them to stop within a short enough distance to avoid a collision under the prevailing circumstances and conditions. Barnett failed this standard when he left the bridge unattended to go below deck.
Under Alaska law, it is illegal to pollute waters of the state. It is also illegal to operate a boat in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. Both offenses are class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and a year in jail for individuals and a $200,000 fine for business organizations. Organizations are liable for the criminal acts of their agents acting within the scope of their employment and for the benefit of the organization.
Assistant Attorney General
Daniel Cheyette of the Alaska Department of Law, Criminal Division,
Office of Special Prosecutions prosecuted the charges. Criminal
investigators from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
investigated the incident along with the United States Coast
Guard. For further information, contact Assistant Attorney General
Cheyette at (907) 269-6250.
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