Charter Boat Captain Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

PORTLAND, OREGON – An Oregon charter fishing boat captain was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment yesterday in federal court in Portland. Richard J. Oba, of Winchester Bay, was the owner and captain of the Sydney Mae II, a 38 foot boat Oba used to conduct fishing charters. On September 19, 2005, Oba steered the boat into dangerous waters after being warned to stay away by the U. S. Coast Guard. The boat was struck by large wave and sunk off the Umpqua River Bar, killing three passengers. Oba had pled guilty to three counts of Seaman’s Manslaughter, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1115.

The Honorable Ancer L. Haggerty, Chief Judge, agreed with prosecutors that Oba had acted recklessly, and upwardly departed to sentence Oba to 6 years.

Karin J. Immergut, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, and United States Coast Guard Captain Patrick G. Gerrity, Captain of the Port, Portland, applauded the sentence. “This sends the message loud and clear: if you ignore the warnings of the Coast Guard and tragedy results, you will go to prison,” Ms. Immergut said.

“The seas and river bars can be extremely dangerous,” Captain Gerrity said. “Although, the vast majority of commercial operators in Oregon have excellent records and work closely with the Coast Guard in maintaining the highest level of safety, today’s sentence will demonstrate to those captains who operate their boats in a hazardous or reckless manner that they will be held accountable.”

The sentence is believed to be the longest ever in this type of case. The pilot of Staten Island Ferry, operating in waters off New York City, received a sentence of 18 months after he fell asleep at the helm and crashed his ferry into a pier, killing eleven.

William Harris, age 57, of Springfield, Oregon; Virginia Strelow, age 63, of Reedsport, Oregon; and Paul Turner, age 76, of Boise, Idaho died as a result of the sinking of the Sydney Mae II on September 19, 2005. Oba and passenger Jim Parker, of Eugene, were plucked from the ocean after the accident by the men and women of the United States Coast Guard Station Umpqua River.

Ms. Immergut expressed appreciation for the work of the Coast Guard: “This case is full of tragedy – but we should also recognize the heroic conduct of the men and women of Station Umpqua River, who risked their lives to save Mr. Parker and the defendant.”

The case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Coast Guard Sector Portland also contributed to the investigation and prosecution. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton who was assisted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron W. Reiman, United States Coast Guard.

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