Ultimately, Elhert and his legal team were able to convince the judge "that the conditions did not meet the legal standard that would have led to a greater sentence," reports Tampa Bay Online (TBO). While the prosecution argued that his actions could have led to the deaths or serious bodily injury to others aboard the ship -- the Coast Guard Investigative Service initially advised Holland America that the sudden release of anchors could puncture a vessel -- the judge did not agree.
Elhert blamed a combination of intoxication and curiosity for his actions. According to court filings obtained by TBO, he started drinking at about 9 p.m. on a formal night. Before releasing the 18-ton anchor at approximately 5:25 a.m., he consumed three or four glasses of wine, a wine glass full of vodka, five single martinis, four double martinis, one-quarter of a two-liter bottle of Grey Goose vodka (that he stole from a closed bar) and an Ambien. In an apology letter to the captain, Elhert, a boat owner, explained that he believed "that [he] was intrigued by the machinery and curious to see if [he] could operate it.
"I do remember trying to stop the anchor once it started moving," he wrote, "but it just kept going faster."
The original story appears below.
(November 30, 2010, 11 a.m. EST) -- A California man has been arrested and is facing charges of attempting to damage a vessel and endangering a ship's navigation after he dropped the anchor of Holland America's Ryndam over the weekend. A Cruise Critic member was onboard and recounts what happened on our message boards.
The Press Association is reporting that 44-year-old passenger Rick Ehlert entered a restricted area on Deck 11 of the 55,819-ton, 1,266-passenger ship while it was chugging from Costa Maya back to Tampa after a seven-night Caribbean cruise.
An FBI affidavit says the man -- who claims he was drunk when the incident occurred -- put on work gloves and entered the area and released the ship's rear anchor. It is also said that Ehlert threw a life buoy overboard.
Cruise Critic member woodofpine, who was on the Ryndam at the time of the Saturday incident, corroborates the account on our boards: "At about 7:15 a.m., the Captain announced that the aft anchor had been 'engaged' (meaning exactly what?) by someone at about 5:25 AM and that a ring/buoy was tossed from an upper deck at about 5:55 a.m. I wondered when the bridge became aware of the anchor 'engagement' as the ring toss was nearly half hour later.
"The Captain indicated that a rescue maneuver had been undertaken to retrieve the ring. The Captain encouraged (ie. demanded) that the responsible party step forward (nada) or general muster and head count would be required; this followed about 15 minutes later (and took about 75-90 minutes)."
Prior to disembark, woodofpine continues, Ehlert's name was announced on the P.A. He ends his report with a thought being echoed by many CC fans: "Sorry to say that passengers have to be treated like children."
According to the Tampa Tribune, Ehlert was identified on a security video (reportedly in formal-night attire), then interviewed by the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service. The paper reports that the affidavit indicates "he told investigators he knew how to release the anchor because he owns a 50-foot boat with a similar anchor."
The affidavit states the ship wasn't damaged, says the Tribune, but it could have been, inasmuch as "releasing an anchor on a moving cruise ship could damage the rudder and propeller, disabling the vessel's ability to maneuver. It could puncture the ship, causing it to flood or sink."
In a statement, Holland America states it "will not provide any information beyond what has been included in the Criminal Complaint." However, the line does confirm the information in the affidavit and thanks the authorities for the "professional manner in which the investigation has been conducted."
Were you onboard? Let us know.
Off Limits: How Did a Cruise Ship Passenger Release an Anchor?
--by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor