DOCUMENT: Drunk, Stupid

Drunk Passenger In Anchor Aweigh Case Cops Plea

Admits illegal deployment on Holland America vessel


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Anchor Drop Plea

AUGUST 19--The drunken passenger who last year released the anchor on a Holland America cruise ship traveling in international waters will plead guilty to a felony charge for attempting to damage the vessel, according to a deal struck with federal prosecutors.

According to a plea agreement filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, Rick Ehlert faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine in connection with the November 2010 incident on the MS Ryndam. Ehlert is pictured in the mug shot at right.

As the ship traveled between Mexico and Florida, Ehlert, 45, gained access to a crew-only deck and went through “an unlocked door with warnings that only authorized personnel were permitted to enter.” Inside, Ehlert released the 18-ton anchor and chain, allowing it to “free fall, as indicated by the fact that there was rust from the chain sprayed all over the deck.”

Ehlert was captured on surveillance video which showed him wearing work gloves and “taking multiple steps” to release the anchor. “The deployment mechanism is quite complex and required tools, including a wrench, to complete. The process took Ehlert approximately 12 minutes,” the plea agreement notes.

Investigators charged that the anchor’s release could have caused significant damage, since the MS Ryndam “was in such deep water that the anchor did not hit the sea floor.” The ship has a capacity of 1260 passengers and carries a crew of 580, according to Holland America's web site.

When the ship returned to port in Tampa, Ehlert confessed during questioning by FBI agents and Coast Guard investigators. Ehlert, who said that he was intoxicated when he released the anchor, also admitted throwing a life buoy overboard. He added that he owned a 50-foot boat with a “similar anchor system to the ship’s anchor system.”

Ehlert, a southern California resident, is scheduled to appear later this afternoon for a change of plea hearing in the Tampa federal courthouse. (7 pages)