A FISHING boat captain has been spared jail for crashing into South Shields Pier while under the influence of drink.
Robert Trueman, the skipper in charge of the Grenaa Star when it struck the pier at 6.30am on December 17, 2013, was fined £5,000.
He is also required to do 120 hours’ unpaid work as part of a 15-month community order he was given at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday.
Trueman must pay £4,536 costs and a £60 victim surcharge too.
The court heard that Trueman initially refused to take a breath test but, two hours after the collision, provided a reading of 58mcg of alcohol in 100ml of breath, the legal driving limit being 35.
The 60ft vessel was so badly damaged in the collision that it has to be towed to shallow water at Littlehaven, South Shields. It was later scrapped.
Judge Simon Hickey told the 54-year-old: “Due to your lack of judgement through drink, the autopilot was incorrectly set. If incorrectly done, it would steer too early, and that, in my judgement, accounts for the collision.
“The two crew members below deck may have been injured or not able to get out. Fortunately, no one was injured. It is simply good fortune that worse didn’t occur.”
The court heard that Trueman, of Rowell Street, Hartlepool, initially told police that another member of crew was in charge of the boat before admitting – on February 24, 2014 – that he was responsible and had earlier consumed six pints of beer.
Graham Duff, prosecuting, said: “He admitted being at the wheel when collision occurred. The autopilot was incorrectly set.
“The defendant, by his own admission, had clearly taken a quantity of alcohol.”
Trueman, the boat’s owner, admitted failing to keep a good lookout.
Christopher Knox, defending, said: “He has been a fishing boat skipper for over 30 years, and he has had his own boat for 25 years.
“He is a man thought of highly in the fishing industry, and he’s helped others in training.
“This is not a man who should have been thought of as anything but wholly reputable.
“He has received catastrophic damage to his reputation.”
Judge Hickey told Trueman: “I accept you are a man who is now showing genuine remorse and have suffered great damage to your reputation.
“You have received £96,000 from an insurance payout and spent £60,000 on a new vessel.”
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said that, five hours after the collision, Trueman provided a urine sample giving a reading of 65mcg in 100ml, the legal limit being 107.
David Fuller, principal fishing vessel surveyor at the agency, said: “This was a serious, avoidable incident.
“Overdependence on autopilots is dangerous especially in confined waters, and to ensure safety at sea, it is essential to maintain a proper lookout at all times.”