A captain of a chemical tanker has lost his job after being found drunk aboard the vessel moments before it was due to leave Port Taranaki carrying tonnes of methanol.
About 11pm on Tuesday, SG Pegasus shipmaster Saurabh Kumar Singh was waiting to be guided out of the harbour by a pilot when a pilot suspected he had been drinking and phoned police and Maritime New Zealand.
A pilot is used to guide a ship out of port before disembarking and handing control back to the captain, who maintains command of the vessel the whole time
When officers arrived at the ship Singh, who was responsible for overseeing the operation of the chemical tanker and its crew, underwent an evidential breath test.
He returned a reading of 881 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath - the seafarer's legal limit is 250mcgs.
SG Pegasus, a Panama-registered oil and chemical tanker, docked at Port Taranaki on Monday about 10.20am. It was due to depart Tuesday evening for Nelson with tonnes of methanol, but following the incident it did not leave until around 3pm on Wednesday once a replacement master was put on board.
Under the Maritime Transport Act Singh was charged with exceeding the seafarer's legal alcohol limit to which he pleaded guilty in the New Plymouth District Court on Thursday.
Police prosecutor detective sergeant David McKenzie said in explanation Singh told police "he had been having a bad day and realised he had made a mistake".
Duty solicitor Josie Mooney said as a consequence her client had lost his job. Employed in the industry for 17 years, Singh, an Indian national, believed he would now struggle to find further work, she said. "And he obviously uses that to support his wife and children back in India." He intended to return home as soon as the matter had been dealt with in court, Mooney said.
In terms of sentencing, she suggested a substantial fine would suffice given the personal consequences he already faced. She said any fine imposed could be immediately paid by Singh.
Judge Chris Sygrove said it was an unusual charge as the court usually dealt with defendants caught drunk and in charge of motor vehicles, not ships.
"But I'll deal with it in a similar way to which we'd deal with it if you had been driving a motorcar," he said. While "probably more serious than that", Sygrove thought it was fair to impose a fine given Singh had already lost his job and still had a family to support.
He ordered Singh pay $1000 plus court costs by 5pm Thursday.
Outside of court, Maritime NZ's regional manager Central, Michael-Paul Abbott, said the sentence was a strong reminder and warning to seafarers.
"If you are over the alcohol limit, you will be prosecuted. Safety is paramount," he said. Abbott said while extremely disappointed with this Master's actions, "we are pleased with the prompt actions of the pilots in bringing this to our attention, the police for their support, and the shipping company for reinforcing their no tolerance approach to alcohol on board the ship".