Are Your Breathalyser Limits Over Their Limits?

Alcohol testing on a ship

We’re no strangers to the mixed antics of seafaring crew – we’re all human after all whether we have our land or sea legs on, but occasionally you come across something more reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Drunken crew, brawling policemen, stranded ships and banished shipmasters…

We recently read about Valeriy Velychko, a 53-year-old ship master whose alcohol levels were six times the legal limit in charge of his tanker.

His state was reported by the crew and a police officer boarded the ship to find a drunken Velychko at the helm of the 23,600-tonne ship Kohl 1. After resisting arrest, a brawl ensued resulting in Valeriy being taken into police custody. He then tested positive for alcohol with 138mcg of alcohol in 100mls of breath, which equates to more than six times the limit of 25mcg for being in charge of a ship.

Velychko was held in police cells over the weekend before going to court – the intention was for him to be held in custody until his appearance at Teesside Crown Court weeks later, but it was then realised that the ship could potentially be stuck without a skipper in Teesside until his eventual release, which could have been four to six weeks away.

He was therefore granted bail after pleading guilty on the proviso that he return for his sentencing.

Time for a twist…

This is where this story has a slightly strange twist though…

As we’ve outlined, to stop the Kohl 1 being stuck in the UK, the master was needed back on the ship and granted bail, so he then legally took the ship and cargo to its intended destination in Finland.

Despite the prosecution stating that others had been jailed for up to two years for similar offences, Velychko was totally co-operative and intended to return to the UK as promised. 

However, even without the sentence, his drunken behaviour and skirmish were now on his records and because he now has a criminal conviction, he’s not being granted a Visa to allow access to the country for his sentence.

His defence team have been communicating with the authorities to try to find a solution – as a well paid professional master of a ship, he is not intending to further damage his reputation but it’s quite a Catch 22.

His sentencing is currently scheduled for early November, but the only permission he currently has to gain access to the country is the letter from the authorities to attend court. Immigration has refused to give permission using this, so there is a chance that despite him trying to do the right thing, Velychko will walk free.

Whilst the unusual ending to this may not be the norm, the inebriation on board is far from an isolated incident. 

It’s not unusual…

Every year, countless crew members over the limit whilst on duty go unnoticed, putting their own safety as well as that of their fellow seafarers at risk.

We also hear regularly that there is no equipment on board to test alcohol levels, or the equipment isn’t maintained well enough to be reliable.

Not only does this send the message that it’s hard to prove the drunken behaviour exists – which is hardly a deterrent – but it’s sweeping it under the carpet altogether.

There are many maritime policies in place, some which include screening for alcohol and drug use on board but not all are actioned or enforced. It has even been recorded that problems with the supply of suitable breathalysers have resulted in fines not being levied to guilty parties over the limit.

As we know, a significant part of the problem here is equipment availability as reliable breathalysing equipment can be expensive to purchase as well as cumbersome to maintain. 

This makes it even easier for excessive alcohol use to slip through the various loops present in the under-resourced management teams on board many of our ships. The many checks and procedures required to keep a vessel legal – before you even look at crew health and safety measures – is stifling and much of this is overlooked or executed poorly.

ALCO XS™

One product in our range which offers a solution to this growing problem is the ALCO XS™ 

It is a breathalyser with a difference being the only marine breath alcohol tester available which never requires re-calibration. 

Many conventional breathalysers are extremely wasteful as – by design – if they don’t remain reliable they need completely replacing each year.  The nature of a breathalyser is that it has a specified level of accuracy it must meet to comply with legal standards in place.

The design of the ALCO XS™ has addressed the issues present with existing breathalysers as it doesn’t need sending ashore every year to be calibrated or, as is more often the case, totally replaced. 

All you need to do with the ALCO XS™ is insert the pre-calibrated ALCO XS™ sensor cell every year, which only takes a few seconds to do, and it is ready to use being instantly certified as accurate for a further twelve months.

The simplicity of this model saves you a fortune compared to existing breathalysers and saves a phenomenal amount of time- it really couldn’t be easier.

The added advantage here is the red tape time it’s going to save you. It has been designed specifically to meet the new “Manila Amendments” to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). These new standards are being failed by the majority of current breathalysers so we would encourage any crew to test their existing breathalysing kit for compliance with the revised terms.

Now is as good a time as any to check your current breathalysers to see if they have the required level of accuracy to meet these new limits.

If you need any help with your equipment or it’s time to get a new top of the line breathalysing kit, get in touch and we’ll be happy to advise you on the easiest ways to maintain compliance onboard your vessels