RIGA - Just days after a Cypriot cargo ship ran aground off Latvia's northwestern coast, another small cargo ship ran into problems, though this time due to the negligence of its captain and crew. On Jan. 21, the Malta-registered Nijord, a small cargo vessel, ran aground at about 11 p.m. despite warnings from Latvian coastal authorities to correct course.
The ship was plying from France to Latvia and was not carrying cargo. No one was injured.
Latvian authorities said suspicions of negligence were initially roused by voice patterns. Later, after the vessel had run aground and naval coast guard officers boarded the ship, the situation became clear, Hermanis Cernovs, chief of Latvia's naval coast guard, said.
Blood samples taken from the crew of nine showed that five had been intoxicated.
"The weather conditions were good at the time, therefore the main cause of the accident is negligence by the crew," Cernovs said.
After investigating the incident, the Latvian National Police drew up an administrative protocol against the ship's captain, a Russian citizen, whose blood-alcohol test showed 1.4 permills.
The fact that this is the second cargo ship in a week to run aground in Latvia's territorial waters irked officials.
"It is dangerous to let these seamen out of the country," Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis said in an interview with LNT on Jan. 22.
Nearly shaking with indignation, Godmanis underscored that anyone who sails a ship while under the influence of alcohol should be punished as a criminal.
If a person had been caught driving a car with a blood-alcohol level of 1.4 permills, the minister pointed out, he would be arrested for 10 days and deprived of his license for two years.
On Jan. 14, the Greek-owned Golden Sky ran aground after encountering engine trouble in stormy weather. The ship dropped anchor to fix the problem, but the anchor chain subsequently snapped in the gale force winds.
Police have charged the Nijord captain with violating naval transport regulations and endangering the safety of his crewmembers and other ships. Such an offense carries a fine of up to 100 lats (142 euros).
Ultimately, the Latvian Maritime Administration safety inspectorate will decide on the captain's administrative punishment.
Unlike the Golden Sky, which leaked 400 tons of fuel into the Baltic Sea, the Nijord did not cause any pollution problems.
Cernovs added that the ship's crew had been warned to change course shortly before the accident, but failed to react in time to warnings and radio messages.
One day after the ship ran aground, representatives of the Latvian Coast Guard, Border Guard and State Police boarded the ship to conduct an investigation. The Nijord was pulled from the sandbar at 3:35 p.m. with the help of a tugboat, a coast guard boat and a border guard ship.
The coast guard ship KA-14 Astra is currently escorting the Nijord to the Ventspils Port. The body of the ship had not been damaged.
Meanwhile, a salvaging operation continues for the Golden Sky. Helicopters are unloading the fertilizer a bit at a time, though snowy weather has decreased visibility and hampered the operation.