Belfast Telegraph

Captain jailed for a year after £1m ferry crash

By Michael McHugh

The drunk captain of a ship which collided with a passenger ferry in Northern Ireland, causing more than £1 million of damage, has been jailed for a year.

Miroslaw Pozniak, 55, admitted crashing his cargo boat while three times over the alcohol limit but said it was because of news of his wife's ill-health, his defence barrister told Downpatrick Crown Court.

The married father-of-two was at the helm on March 7 when he crashed into a ferry with 100 passengers and crew on board in Belfast Lough after ignoring warnings from coastguards. He had no look-out despite the darkness.

Judge David Smyth QC told Pozniak: "This sentence is to make it clear that the following of the regulations in relation to alcohol and also in relation to the charting and proper adherence to accepted routes is of vital importance.

"The ending of your 30-year career and the sentence effectively demonstrate that."

The defendant dropped his head slightly as sentence was passed.

Pozniak's defence barrister, Sean Doran, said the captain had been drinking six or seven bottles of beer in his cabin and this was most uncharacteristic of him.

It had followed a "difficult" conversation with his wife in Poland when he learned that her seeming health improvement had changed and she had suffered a relapse.

This had been Pozniak's second exit from the Port of Belfast. The collision happened as his boat, the Union Moon, was leaving Belfast Lough and the Stena Feronia was entering from Birkenhead, near Liverpool.

The judge said the course was clear that the Union Moon should veer away by about 20 degrees but it did not. This caused concern at Belfast harbour control, which reminded Pozniak of the route and alerted the Master of the Stena Feronia.

About six minutes before the collision, the Stena Feronia attempted a manoeuvre which was designed to reduce the impact but it was too late to prevent a collision. The prow of the Union Moon struck the car deck of the Stena Feronia.

The judge said: "If the route that should have been followed had been followed by the Union Moon this collision would not have occurred.

"The collision occurred because the proper course was not followed and the responsibility was entirely that of Captain Pozniak."

There was no injury or loss of life and the Lough was quiet.

The court heard that the Maritime and Coastal Agency had brought its own charges against the Pole.

They included failing to keep a proper look-out, failing to navigate, and causing serious damage to his own ship as well as another vessel.

He pleaded guilty to those charges, but denied that he failed to follow the safety rules of his former employers, along with proper watch-keeping arrangements.

The latter two charges will remain "on the books" and will not be proceeded with.

Captain Alan Marsh, enforcement officer with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said today's case sent out a message to other users of the sea.

He said if the bulkhead of the Union Moon had been penetrated it could have sunk.

"It is essential that mariners recognise that there is no place for taking alcohol when you are operating a ship at any level," he added.

"When you are navigating during the hours of darkness it is imperative that you have a look-out there and you are not alone."

Belfast Telegraph

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