Looks like the highly controversial sail training operation aboard the homebuilt steel cutter Columbia was a bit ‘bogus’ after all.
Regular readers will remember our reports on the widespread search effort for this long-overdue 45-footer, run by a Frenchman operating under a British flag off the South American Coast. That story had a happy ending two weeks ago when the boat limped into Coquimbo, Chile, more than five weeks after her scheduled arrival. She was immediately placed under investigation by both British and Chilean authorities. The Brits questioned the validity of the vessel’s registry as well as owner Boguslaw ‘Bob’ Norwid-Niepoko’s status as a certified captain (Master). Cap’n Bob may also be in trouble with Chilean authorities, for ignoring that country’s stringent reporting requirements, as he did not check in when he entered Chilean waters.
Shortly after we went to press with our report on the Columbia fiasco, we were forwarded the following report, written by an enforcement officer of the UK’s
Maritime & Coastguard Agency: "The vessel was registered on the UK Small Ships Register as a pleasure yacht and did not come under UK legislation to operate as a commercial vessel. It could only operate as a leisure vessel for use of the owner, etc.The owner was shown on the UK register as Boguslaw Norwid-Niepoko at an address in Plymouth.
"Boguslaw Norwid-Niepoko does not reside in Plymouth but is apparently married to a Chilean and has a house in Chile. As the vessel has no UK contact on the registry, the MCA has removed the vessel from the UK flag.
"The maritime authorities in Chile are aware that the vessel is no longer under the UK flag and the Maritime Inspection Services have detained the vessel until such time that the vessel and owner comply with the maritime regulations.
"Information regarding the removal of the vessel from the UK registry and the detention by the maritime authority in Chile will be passed to all the MRCC’s and Coastguard that were involved in the search. They will also be made aware that the skipper does not hold any UK maritime qualification or certificate of competence."
Among the general public, his operation did not become controversial due to licensing issues, however, but because he operates long-range, bluewater sailing training exercises hundreds — in fact, thousands — of miles offshore without long-range communications capabilities, and seems to have complete disregard for arriving near his published dates, or making government authorities aware that his vessel is safe when he becomes seriously overdue.
If you’d like to chime in with a well-reasoned opinion, the key questions are these: Because Columbia was involved in a commercial enterprise, should the skipper have been obligated to report his whereabouts when the trip became long overdue? Was he negligent for not attempting outside contact, knowing his clients’ families would be anxious? Should such a vessel be required to carry some type of long-range communications device when operating offshore?