The Croatian captain of a Norwegian tanker faced criminal charges after U.S. Coast Guard inspectors found his ship, carrying fertilizer, had a leak when it sailed into Baltimore. The Freja Jutlandic, owned by the Danish Progress Line, was taking on water when the tanker arrived at Baltimore with a cargo of urea ammonium nitrate on March 22 on a voyage from Norway to Tampa, Florida.
The Coast Guard said it was tipped off to the leak by a frightened crew member who slipped a handwritten note to an inspector. Officials later found a dime-sized hole in the hull of the 6,300-ton vessel.
The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore said Capt. Davor Maric was charged with failing to report dangerous conditions under the 1972 U.S. Ports and Waterways Safety Act and with making false statements to federal authorities. He could spend five years in prison if convicted.
Maric completed his arraignment on Thursday before a U.S. magistrate, who ordered him to post a $30,000 cash bond and the ship's owner to sign a $90,000 surety bond ensuring that he would appear for future proceedings.
An affidavit sworn by Coast Guard Special Agent Patrick Donnelly said Maric telexed a message to Progress two days before the ship arrived in Baltimore, warning the company that the leak could be discovered by U.S. inspectors.
The company replied that the leak would be repaired after the ship arrived in Tampa but said a temporary patch over the hole was not to be reported to the Coast Guard, the affidavit said.
An investigation, which federal authorities described as ongoing, said the leak had been known about for 10 days, and during this time the ship's intake of water grew from 105 gallons per hour to 516 gallons per hour. Progress issued a statement in Copenhagen saying the leak at no point posed a threat to the ship, its crew and cargo or presented a risk to the environment. "Our company totally fails to comprehend the drastic nature of the American authorities' action but is fully confident that the matter can be resolved amicably," Progress said.
A spokesman for the attorney's office, which is part of the U.S. Justice Department, denied a company claim that the ship's crew had been detained. The leak was fully repaired at the direction of U.S. authorities and the Freja Jutlandic was expected to continue on its way south under a new captain. -(Reuters)