Background: Why the U.S. Coast Guard Adopted a “Get Tough” Approach
The grounding of the 30,000 ton tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 24th, 1989 caused the spillage of 11 million gallons of crude oil. This accident represented one of the world’s worst environmental disasters. The captain admitted consuming “two or three vodkas” on the night the vessel struck Bligh Reef. The media focused a great deal of attention on the allegation that he was impaired. Subsequently the captain of the Exxon Valdez had his Master’s license suspended by the United States Coast Guard for the negligent discharge of the oil.
It is widely believed that this incident encouarged the federal government to issue stringent regulations that affect licensed captains under Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 10.211 and 10.213. However, it is important to note that this legislation was not limited to conduct at sea, but also included the exercise of poor judgment when the captain was shore-side.
How a DUI Conviction Can Affect Your Captain’s License
It is the primary purpose of Coast Guard Suspension and Revocation proceedings under 46 USC Section 7701(a) to promote safety at sea. However, for purposes of evaluating your safety and suitability to remain a licensed captain, the U.S. Coastguard takes a rather broad approach that is not limited to your conduct at sea.
46 USC Section 7703(2) provides that a mariner’s credentials can be suspended or revoked if he is convicted of a criminal offense that would have prevented the original issuance or the renewal of his license. Under 46 CFR 10.214, this includes those who have National Driver Registry motor vehicle convictions involving dangerous drugs or alcohol.”
The United States Coast Guard employs a rather broad definition of what constitutes a “criminal conviction.” Their interpretation differs greatly from the narrow definition typically applied in criminal court and other legal settings. More specifically, 46 CFR section 10.107(b) states:
“Conviction means that the applicant for a merchant mariner credential has been found guilty, by judgment or plea by a court of record of the United States, the District of Columbia, any State, territory, or possession of the United States, a foreign country, or any military court, of a criminal felony or misdemeanor or of an offense described in section 205 of the National Driver Register Act of 1982, as amended (49 U.S.C. 30304 ). If an applicant pleads guilty or no contest, is granted deferred adjudication, or is required by the court to attend classes, make contributions of time or money, receive treatment, submit to any manner of probation or supervision, or forgo appeal of a trial court’s conviction, then the Coast Guard will consider the applicant to have received a conviction. A later expungement of the conviction will not negate a conviction unless the Coast Guard is satisfied that the expungement is based upon a showing that the court’s earlier conviction was in error.”