Polish Skipper Jailed for Crashing Into North Sea Rig

LONDON (AFP), Nov 2, 2007 (Dow Jones Newswires)

A Polish sea captain was jailed for 12 months by a court in the U.K. Friday after crashing his ship into an unmanned gas platform in the North Sea while drunk.

Zbigniew Krakowski admitted being nearly three times over the legal alcohol limit and entering a 500-meter exclusion around the Viking Echo gas platform, 64 kilometers' northeast of Cromer in eastern England.

The 56-year-old from Szczecin, northwest Poland, was in charge of the 2,000-metric ton Jork from Luebeck, northern Germany, to New Holland in north Lincolnshire, eastern England, when the crash happened on Aug. 4.

Lincoln Crown Court was told that the accident caused damage of between GBP7 million and GBP10 million.

The platform, owned by U.S. firm ConocoPhillips (COP), remains out of action and is losing the firm GBP615,000 a month in revenue. Repair work cannot start until April next year at the earliest, the hearing was told.

Krakoswki, who had been sitting with his back to the ship's bow looking at the vessel's computer when the collision happened, afterwards opened a bottle of vodka sometimes kept for tipping dock workers, possibly out of shock.

He had earlier been told to alter the ship's course by seven degrees when he took control from the chief officer.

The court was told that Krakowski, who has more than 30 years' experience, ignored the instructions and only looked over his shoulder at intervals.

Judge John Milmo heard that the skipper only realized the danger when the Jork, which was carrying wheat, was between 91 and 137 meters from the Viking Echo.

He then tried to change course, but the ship struck the rig a glancing blow. It continued another 500 meters before stopping and listing. It sank a day later.

The seven-member crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing boat.

Krakowski's lawyer, Allan Mainds, told the court his client was "genuinely remorseful" at what had happened.

"It's not just the loss of his career but he has remorse for what has taken place, the loss to the company that owns the vessel, the huge loss of gas (production) and the disaster for the crew," he added.

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