A north-east skipper who helped spearhead a campaign to safeguard Scotland’s fishing industry put to sea after he and his crew had been on a drinking spree.
Stephen Ritchie set sail from Lerwick in his trawler Phoenix because he feared bad weather would leave him stuck in the Shetland port.
But the move was branded “stupidity” in court yesterday after the 55-year-old admitted “culpably and recklessly” boarding his white fish vessel while he and his crew were intoxicated.
Lerwick Sheriff Court heard the father-of-seven had been so drunk his ability to function as a skipper was impaired.
His 21-year-old son Matthew also appeared in the dock after a drunken rampage in Lerwick on the same date, February 2 last year.
He admitted vandalising four cars parked along the Esplanade and was ordered to pay £340 in compensation.
During yesterday’s hearing, Ritchie sen, who lives near Fraserburgh, was warned about the dangers of drinking at sea.
Fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said “the stupidity of mixing the sea and drink” was “blindingly obvious”.
He added: “Time and again this combination has resulted in catastrophe.”
Ritchie sen’s agent, solicitor Tommy Allen, said the Phoenix had berthed at Lerwick with its partner trawler, which needed repairs.
Engineers had asked for extra time to work on the boat, so Ritchie and the Phoenix’s crew decided to go to the pub while they waited.
Mr Allen said that it became clear that there was only a short weather window in which the boat could return to its home port of Fraserburgh, otherwise the crew faced being stuck in Lerwick for another three days.
Ritchie decided they should depart while the going was good.
Mr Allan said Ritchie, who has been at sea since he was a teenager, was normally “very careful” when it came to onboard safety.
The court heard he had spent up to £5,000 travelling to and from Lerwick for five previous court hearings related to the incident.
Sheriff Philip Mann told the skipper: “You should appreciate that you should take the utmost care when dealing with your own safety and the safety of your crew.
“It is a very foolhardy thing, to put to sea whilst intoxicated, and is not to be tolerated.
“But I am prepared to deal with this by way of a financial penalty.”
Ritchie, of East Moss Croft, Memsie, was fined £600.
As well as being ordered to pay compensation, Ritchie jun was fined £300 for his drunken rampage at Lerwick harbour.
He broke an offside wing mirror, snapped two rear windscreen wipers, damaged a front wiper and dented the bonnet of one of the vehicles.
Mr Allan said the young crewman had been “drunk to the point that he can’t remember what happened.”
In 2004, Ritchie sen was involved in a demonstration at Fraserburgh harbour against impending days-at-sea restrictions for fishing boats.
The protest involved his two vessels, Falcon and Phoenix, breaking through a plastic chain at the harbour entrance while flares were fired.
The stunt had been organised by the north-east’s campaigning Cod Crusaders, which was led by three women, including Ritchie’s wife Morag.
Three years ago, the couple were hit by tragedy when their son Nathan, 22, died just hours after he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
The family asked doctors at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary not to switch off his life support machine until his father could come home from sea to be at his bedside.