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Coast Guard Investigates Claim of Drinking Ferry Captain

The U.S. Coast Guard is in the midst of an investigation into a claim by an unidentified person that the captain of one of the ferry boats that plies the water between Cruz Bay, St. John, and Red Hook, St. Thomas, was drinking between trips.

“These are very serious allegations,” Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said Friday.

The person who complained, who wrote emails to various government agencies with an address that includes “safety first,” said he was unable to get anyone to respond when he called various agencies. However, Castrodad said, he did exactly what the Coast Guard wants people who see problems to do.

That person also sent photos of the captain drinking at a Cruz Bay bar.

Castrodad identified the captain as one who works for Varlack Ventures but the letter writer said the ferry boat was the Cruz Bay 1, which is assigned to Transportation Services. Delrise Varlack at Varlack Ventures said the company operates the Red Hook 1. She had no other comment.

Transportation Services manager Kenrick Augustus did not return a phone call requesting comment.

According to Castrodad, the Coast Guard is working with the ferry company to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

He said that while it’s too late to test the blood alcohol level of the captain since the incident happened a couple of weeks ago, he pointed out that operators of commercial vessels cannot have blood alcohol levels of more than .04 when operating a vessel.

According to the person who complained, he spotted the captain at about 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 2 sitting at the bar in his uniform order a drink.

“I saw the bartender pour alcohol into this drink. The ferry captain consumed this drink quickly, then proceeded to joke with the bartender, saying there must have been a hole in his cup, because it was already empty, and the bartender proceeded to fill another alcoholic drink for the captain, who then took that cup to go,” the person wrote.

He then wrote that he tried to contact various agencies, including the Coast Guard, but couldn’t get anyone to respond.

Castrodad acknowledged that the person had contacted the Coast Guard.

“We didn’t have any assets to send at that time of night,” Castrodad said.

Once the ferry reached Red Hook, the person spotted a V.I. Port Authority officer, who he said told him there was nothing he could do.

“The actions I witnessed were appalling; however, the lack of action on the part of multiple government agencies sworn to protect U.S. citizens is equally appalling,” he wrote.

He said he then spotted the same captain later in the week at a St. Thomas bar again drinking while in his ferry captain uniform. The man wrote that he again contacted authorities with no result.

“I truly am speechless and I hope that with the caliber and authority of the recipients to this email, that immediate steps are taken to prevent a true tragedy from occurring. Behavior like this is bound to be repeated if it is not corrected,” he wrote.

The man said he wanted to remain anonymous because he feared retribution when he makes a return visit to the territory.

To report a problem, call the Coast Guard in San Juan at 787-289-2041.

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