Australian captain acquitted of spilling mineral spirits in Simpson Bay lagoon, St. Maarten

POSTED: 05/19/11 12:14 PM

St. Maarten – Rocka Romcke, the 48-year-old Australian captain of the Mirabella, left the courthouse a happy man yesterday morning after the Court in First Instance acquitted him of dumping mineral spirits in the Simpson Bay Lagoon on March 17.

Romcke appeared in court for the first time on April 13 on the same charges but at the time, Judge Mr. M. Keppels ordered a more specific report from the Coast Guard about what it had actually witnessed. Remarkably, that report gave a detailed account of the events on March 17, but there was one crucial detail missing: it did not state that the officers actually saw that the people who were working on the Mirabella had dumped mineral spirits in the lagoon. Based on this omission, Judge Keppels had no other option than to acquit the Australian.

On the day in question, the office of the public prosecutor had asked for an investigation into activities around the Mirabella. The boat was anchored in the middle of the lagoon. The Coast Guard went to have a look, noted that two men were working from a raft on the boat’s hull, and concluded that they had spilled mineral spirits into the lagoon.

“I am accused of dumping mineral spirits in the lagoon, but I hired a local professional company to do the job. Why am I sitting here and that company is not,” Romcke told the court.

Prosecutor Mr. M.L.P. Ridderbeks answered, “As the Mirabella’s captain, the defendant is responsible for everything that happens on and with the vessel. Every boat is bound by local ordinances, and spilling harmful substances in the lagoon, no matter how this happens, is prohibited.”

Romcke had some trouble understanding the definition of dumping. This includes not only willfully throwing harmful substances overboard, but also accidental spilling.

The offense carries a penalty of 300 guilders, but because he was convinced he’d done nothing wrong, the captain took his case to court.

“Coming to this country, hiring a professional company to work on my boat and then being held responsible for this seems all wrong to me,” he said.

Judge Keppels ruled that the additional Coast Guard report described that work was being done on the boat.

“But it does not state that mineral spirits ended up in the water. Therefore there is no proof and this leads to acquittal.”


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