A Thousand Oaks, Calif., RV dealer faces federal charges and up to 20 years in prison for allegedly dropping the anchor while on a cruise from Mexico to Florida, an act that could have damaged or even sunk the ship, authorities told the Ventura County Star.
Rick Ehlert, 44, was arrested Sunday (Nov. 28) after he confessed to investigators that he had released an anchor and thrown a life buoy overboard from a Holland America cruise ship, saying he was drunk at the time, according to a FBI affidavit.
Ehlert could face federal charges of attempting to damage, destroy or wreck a vessel and attempting to cause damage that could endanger the ship’s navigation.
He was released Monday on $15,000 bond. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge, said Special Agent Dave Couvertier of the FBI’s Tampa, Fla., office.
Ehlert is the owner of Conejo Wholesale Auto & RV at 299 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. He did not return messages left Tuesday at the business.
The MS Ryndam was traveling in international waters from Costa Maya, Mexico, to Tampa about 5:25 a.m. Saturday when the ship’s stern anchor was released, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent John C. Manning. About 30 minutes later, a life buoy was thrown from the ship.
Surveillance video showed passenger Ehlert wearing work gloves and deploying the anchor, Manning wrote in the affidavit. Ehlert is wearing the same clothes he had on when photographed with his girlfriend earlier that night at a formal event on the ship, Manning wrote. Customs agents found the clothes in his luggage, authorities said.
The cruise ship docked in Tampa on Sunday and Ehlert spoke voluntarily with FBI and Coast Guard investigators.
“He immediately admitted to throwing the life buoy overboard, and upon further questioning by the agents, also confessed to deploying the ship’s stern anchor. Ehlert stated that at the time of the events, he was intoxicated,” Manning wrote.
Ehlert told authorities he entered an area off limits to passengers, put on work gloves, released a cable attached to a hook holding the anchor, lifted a bar and turned a handle to drop the anchor, Manning wrote. He told investigators he owns a 50-foot boat with a similar anchor system.
Ehlert was arrested by the FBI after the confession, Manning wrote.
According to Coast Guard officials, “free release” of a cruise ship’s anchor would be expected to cause damage, such as puncturing the vessel, and possibly harm its ability to maneuver, according to the affidavit. A puncture could sink or flood a ship.
The MS Ryndam, however, was not damaged.
In a statement, Holland America declined to give any information beyond that released by the FBI, citing the ongoing criminal proceedings and thanking investigating agencies for their professionalism
Couvertier declined to comment about a possible motive for the incident and other details, citing the ongoing investigation.