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Vessel Master Pleads Guilty to Operating Commercial Vessel Under the Influence of Alcohol

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Vessel Master of the M/V Laconia pled guilty today to operating a commercial vessel under the influence of alcohol on the Columbia River. Georgios Choulis pled guilty and was sentenced by the Honorable Marco Hernandez to one year probation and a $500 fine. Choulis is also prohibited from sailing in any capacity on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States for one year.

Choulis was charged by information with negligent operation of a commercial vessel, a class A misdemeanor. Choulis was the only licensed Vessel Master on the M/V Laconia, a 736 foot commercial vessel, sailing under the flag of Malta. M/V Laconia was attempting to cross the Columbia Bar, one of the most dangerous bars in the world, when the Coast Guard and a pilot from the Columbia River Bar Pilots Association boarded the M/V Laconia to assist in crossing the bar. Choulis was not present for the crossing and was instead found sleeping in his berth with a strong odor of alcoholic beverages surrounding him. Coast Guard officials observed an almost empty bottle of scotch and the defendant appeared to be slurring his words. A breathalyzer test indicated Choulis had a blood alcohol content of .287. Another breathalyzer, approximately one hour later showed a blood alcohol content of .118. Federal law prohibits the operation of commercial vessels with a blood alcohol content over .04. Choulis was taken into custody on February 28, 2012 and pled guilty three days later on March 2, 2012.

"Today we send a message that we will fight to protect sailors, property and the environment on the waters of the United States," said U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall. "If you fail to comply with federal law on the waters of the United States, you will be held to account. We will not tolerate the reckless acts of those who endanger safety in commercial shipping and maritime. I want to thank the Coast Guard and other agencies involved in their prompt and professional investigation of this matter and bringing this defendant to justice."

"I commend the efforts of the US Attorney's office to prosecute the Master for this violation that placed the ship in jeopardy of causing great harm to other mariners, property, the public, and the environment," said Rear Adm. Keith A. Taylor, Commander of the 13th Coast Guard District. "This sends a strong message to ships calling on our ports that this carelessness will not be tolerated and assures the Coast Guard's vigilant maritime presence protects and safeguards the public, as well as the natural resources important to our national economy and essential to our way of life here in the Pacific Northwest."

This investigation was conducted by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Holman Kerin.

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