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Drunken sailor's disastrous night out that cost him command of a $540 million warship.

Published on by AnshanJohn

Drunken sailor's disastrous night out

By Jamie Morton and Jared Savage
5:30 AM Thursday Apr 19, 2012
John Butcher. Photo / NZDF

John Butcher. Photo / NZDF

A disgraced senior naval officer swore in front of diplomats and later had to be pulled away from the throttle of a navy boat during an alcohol-fuelled evening that cost him command of a $540 million warship.

A summary released to the Heraldreveals that Commander John Butcher's exploits at an official dinner in Vanuatu last July - which he attended as skipper of the frigate HMNZS Te Mana - were investigated after a complaint from the New Zealand High Commission.

Further information obtained under the Official Information Act shows seven Defence Force personnel found guilty at courts martial in the past three years have had their ranks reduced, a senior Navy officer was ordered to forfeit seniority, and a sailor was jailed for trying to sexually violate a woman in a California hotel.

Commander Butcher was among a group of Navy officers invited to the High Commissioner's residence in Port Vila on July 22.

According to the summary, he began showing signs of drunkenness as pre-dinner drinks were served in the commissioner's lounge.

At 7.30pm, a group of guests moved to tables at an outside patio area for dinner, where Commander Butcher's behaviour "escalated consistent with him being intoxicated".

Vanuatu maritime official John Taleo was seated next to him and last year described how Commander Butcher rapidly downed several glasses of white wine.

"The way he drinks a glass of white wine it was not sipping, it was like ... 'bottoms up' and they would have to fill up the glass again - I think that is why he got drunk so fast," he said.

"I felt sorry for the bar lady as she had to keep coming over and filling his glass up."

Commander Butcher used obscene language during a speech.

While presenting a crest from the Te Mana, he told an unidentified person to "f*** up or shut up or words to that effect", the summary said.

Mr Taleo said he asked the Te Mana's supply officer, "what's wrong with your boss?"

"He said 'maybe we've been at sea too long, six weeks is a long time'."

The drunken behaviour continued after the party left at 11pm and were escorted to a Navy inflatable boat to return to their ships.

As the boat left a pontoon, Commander Butcher reached to push its throttle forward.

His hand was quickly pulled away by the coxswain and another officer who warned him not to touch the controls.

When Te Mana returned to New Zealand, Commander Butcher was relieved of his command and later admitted charges of drunkenness, bringing the service into discredit and inappropriate language, laid under the Armed Forces Discipline Act.

He was reprimanded and ordered to pay a $2000 fine, attend alcohol counselling and write an apology to all the dinner guests.

The Herald was yesterday unable to reach Commander Butcher, who has not been reinstated on Te Mana and now works in a Defence Force office job in Wellington.


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