The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Game playing captain gets home detention

Violation of Clean Water Act from 2010 tugboat grounding


Ronald Monsen, the former tugboat captain that shocked Valdez after his safety-tug ran aground on Bligh Reef two days before Christmas in 2009 has been sentenced to six months home confinement and three years of probation.

Federal prosecutors said Friday the sentence was the result of a guilty plea entered by Monsen for violating the Clean Water Act after 6,410 gallons of diesel spilled from the Crowley operated tugboat Pathfinder during a December 23, 2009 ice-scouting expedition in Prince William Sound.

Ironically, the Pathfinder was part of a navigation safety system put in place after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck the same reef and spewed 11 million gallons of crude oil into surrounding gulf waters, causing what was at the time the largest oil spill in US history.

A US Coast Guard investigation found Monsen was playing computer games and checking his email at the time of the accident.

Monsen was also fined $15,000 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

A 2010 report by Reuters news said after “completing the ice scouting, and waiting for a 6 p.m. order to submit the ice report and return to the Valdez harbor, Monsen altered the auto-pilot course of the boat to bypass two GPS waypoints on the way back.While waiting to submit the report, the tugboat drifted so that the new course would put Bligh Reef between the vessel and its destination. After submitting the report, Monsen ordered both of the ship's engines full ahead, which would drive them directly into infamous Bligh Reef 1-1/2 miles to the south.”

In addition to the accusation of playing electronic games, a Coast Guard report after the accident found Monsen changed the Pathfinder's course despite losing track of the vessel's precise location, increased speed and failed to properly communicate with other officers.

Monsen’s conduct was called “grossly negligent” by US Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith.

The press release said Monsen no longer holds a captain license.


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