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U.S. Coast Guard photo showing the rescue following the capsizing of Stimulus Money illegal charter

Coast Guard warns public of dangerous illegal charter operations following arrest of two individuals. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

Illegal Charter Operators Face Lengthy Prison Sentences Over Fatal Capsizing

Reuters
Total Views: 3699
March 11, 2024

Richard Cruz and Jaime Pinilla Gomez, the owner and operator of the vessel Stimulus Money, were arrested following the fatal capsizing incident on the Hudson River in July 2022. The accident resulted in the deaths of two passengers, including a seven-year-old boy and 48-year-old woman.

The two men have been charged with misconduct and neglect of ship officer resulting in death, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. The unfortunate incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard Sector New York and the Coast Guard Investigative Services (CGIS), who suspect illegal passenger operations.

The investigation revealed that the vessel lacked the necessary Certificate of Inspection (COI), and Gomez did not possess the mandatory Coast Guard issued merchant mariner credential (MMC) for operating a passenger vessel. After wrapping up the investigation, the case was forwarded to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for possible criminal prosecution.

Capt. Zeita Merchant, Captain of the Port of New York, expressed deep condolences to those impacted by the accident. “We can’t stress enough how important it is for owners and operators to know your vessel’s limits and how to safely navigate the waters where you are operating. It is just as important for passengers to understand and ensure those requirements placed upon vessel operators for credentialing are in place before getting underway,” said Merchant.

The Coast Guard is urging the public to be vigilant against illegal charters, underscoring that any vessel carrying six or more passengers must have a valid COI. The public is advised to ask the captain to verify their license and the boat’s inspection status.

The Coast Guard also reminded passengers to check the boat’s maximum capacity plate and avoid overloading, as this can compromise the vessel’s stability and increase the risk of capsizing.

Illegal charter operations not only violate federal law, but can also attract hefty civil penalties. For example, owners and operators may face fines up to $60,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire operations, and charters in violation of a Coast Guard Captain of the Port Order could be fined $111,000 per violation. Other potential penalties include fines for failure to participate in a chemical testing program, failure to provide a COI for vessels carrying more than six passengers, and failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.

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