Five Crew Members Arrested for Illegally Operating Freighter in So. Md. Waters

Three men from Ukraine, one from Russia, and fifth from Poland; Ship under no-sail orders

BALTIMORE (March 17, 2008) - The master and four crew members were arrested last Friday in connection with the improper operation of the M/V Ocean Victory, a Maltese-flagged 328-foot dry bulk carrier, because the helm was not properly manned due to the alleged intoxication of several crew members. The five men were scheduled to appear in federal court in Baltimore on Monday for their initial appearances at 1:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.:

Wojciech Kowalski, the Master, age 63, of Poland;
Yevgen Bystrov, the Second Officer, age 39, of Ukraine;
Sergey Prokofyev, an Able Seaman, age 37, of Russia;
Volodym Voychenko, an Able Seaman, age 45, of Ukraine; and
Yuriy Shelkunov, the Oiler, age 29, of Ukraine.

According to court documents, three captains from the Association of Maryland Pilots (Maryland captains) boarded the Ocean Victory on March 10 to assist the crew in departing the Port of Baltimore and traveling through the Chesapeake Bay. A Maryland captain told Kowalski that he smelled alcohol on Shelkunov. As a result, Shelkunov was not present on the bridge during the departure.

Court documents further allege that after passing the Bay Bridge, Voychenko, who was assigned as helmsman, and Kowalski departed the wheelhouse, leaving no member of the ship’s personnel in the wheelhouse. A Maryland captain went to Kowalski’s stateroom and demanded that the wheelhouse be properly manned. As a result, Voychenko returned to the wheelhouse as the assigned lookout, but smelling of alcohol. Additionally, Voychenko shoved a Maryland captain twice and held a large knife. A Maryland captain removed the knife from Voychenko. At that point, the Maryland captains anchored and departed the ship, because the ship could not safely navigate with intoxicated crewmen, and without crewmen in the wheelhouse.

On the same day, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Baltimore law enforcement officers responded to the request for assistance from the Maryland captains to disembark the vessel.

The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Team was contacted by the Coast Guard and requested to assist. Special operations team members deployed aboard Sheriff’s Office patrol vessel Spec Ops II and met up with the Coast Guard in the Patuxent River. The combined force then boarded the Ocean Victory which had come to anchor at the mouth of the river.

When questioned, Kowalski allegedly falsely stated that he was not aware that one of his crew had a knife, and that he had been on the bridge by himself without help the entire time, except for more than three minutes to get coffee or go to the bathroom.

"The safety and security of our port cannot be compromised," said Captain of the Port, Brian Kelley. "Through the collective efforts of our port partners - in this case, the Maryland pilots and our interagency first responders - we're making certain that Chesapeake Bay maritime transportation is safe and secure."

Customs and Border Protection issued a detainer prohibiting the Ocean Victory's crew from departing the vessel while the Coast Guard investigated the Maryland Pilot's allegations, then paroled the crew into Coast Guard custody for prosecution.

New crew members were placed aboard the vessel, but the vessel remains under a “no sail” order by Captain Kelley. The ship remains at anchor near the mouth of the Patuxent River awaiting a flag administration review by the country of Malta in cooperation with Captain Kelley's Port State Control examiners.

Kowalski is charged with failing to ensure that the wheelhouse was constantly manned and that each person manning the wheelhouse was competent to perform that duty; failing to notify the nearest Coast Guard Marine Safety Office that the ship failed to meet minimum required manning due to the intoxication of four essential crew members; and making false statements. Kowalski faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of these offenses. Bystrov is also charged with making a false statement, which carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The remaining three defendants and Bystrov, are charged with operating the Ocean Victory while intoxicated and face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Sources: United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, Calvert County Sheriff's Office

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