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Deja Vu? Tugboat captain who spilled oil after Bligh Reef crash sentenced

Alaska Dispatch

A U.S. Magistrate on Friday sentenced 63-year-old Ronald Monsen -- who in 2009 ran the tugboat Pathfinder aground on Prince William Sound's infamous Bligh Reef and spilled about 6,400 gallons of fuel -- to 36 months of probation, along with a fine of $15,000 and 50 hours of community service. Six months of Monsen's probation will be served under house arrest.

According to a U.S. Attorney's Office press release, Monsen was captain of the Pathfinder on the night of Dec. 23, 2009, during an ice-scouting expedition in the Sound. 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. The same reef tore a hole in the bottom of Capt. Joe Hazelwood's Exxon Valdez in 1989, leading to North America's second-largest oil spill.

As the Pathfinder continued its course, Monsen began to check his email and play computer games -- including the card game "hearts," according to a 2011 Reuters article. He ran onto the reef at about 6:40 p.m., according to the press release. The vessel spilled more than 6,400 gallons of fuel into the Sound, "causing a visible sheen on the water," the release said.

Monsen is no longer employed as a captain, and no longer has a captain's license. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith said Monsen's conduct was grossly negligent and that the sentence must send a strong message to deter future negligence.