Drunken skipper fined under drink-driving laws

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What shall we do with a drunken sailor? Why, put him in the dock and charge him under the Road Traffic Act, naturally. Lawyers admitted they could find no precedent for the case against Captain Oleg Filimonov, a 41-year-old Estonian, after customs officers found him intoxicated aboard his 17,000-tonne cargo ship, Torrent, after a drinking session. Instead, magistrates in Brighton convicted him under drink-driving laws.

The Torrent arrived in port at Newhaven at noon last Friday, carrying split stone aggregate for building roads and foundations. Magistrates heard that Captain Filimonov was off duty while the cargo was unloaded, and started drinking.

The vessel was due to leave Newhaven at high tide, shortly after midnight. At 9pm, customs officers boarded the ship for routine checks and found him "heavily intoxicated". When they asked him to breathe into the breathalyser, Captain Filimonov, who has commanded ships for 15 years, refused and told them: "Go on then, arrest me." He admitted he had drunk several beers, gin and tonics and rum. Officers found a half-empty bottle of rum in his cabin fridge.

Shah Amin, for the defence, told the court: "He had spent a long time at sea, and this was his only opportunity to see land before setting sail again at high tide. While his cargo was being unloaded, he went into Newhaven town centre to buy food and drink, and drank a few beers during the day."

Captain Filimonov, who admitted refusing a breath test, was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £43 costs. His five days in custody were taken as time served in lieu, so he has nothing to pay.