A charter boat captain who splits his year between Camden and the U.S. Virgin Islands is stunned that the federal government is pursuing criminal charges against him for the death of a crew member who jumped off the sailing vessel following an altercation with the captain more than three years ago.

“This has been so traumatic. I’m not a criminal,” Capt. Richard Smith said in a telephone interview Monday.

A federal grand jury on the Virgin Islands indicted Smith for seaman’s manslaughter on July 12. The indictment had been sealed and Smith was arrested when he arrived in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 2.

Smith said his 43-foot wooden yawl, the Cimarron, has been impounded by the federal government and he has been under house arrest since Nov 2.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Oct. 25, 2015, when new crew member David Pontius jumped overboard after attacking Smith, a Coast Guard report states. The Cimarron was 400 miles off the coast of North Carolina and 400 miles from Bermuda.

The 66-year-old captain has lived in Maine all his life and 45 of those years in Camden. He operates the Cimarron as a charter vessel during the summer in Camden and in the winters in the Virgin Island. When he comes to Camden, he lives aboard his ship, Smith said.


He also operated an English pilot cutter Corineus out of Camden in the past, while also operating the Cimarron. Before that he operated the fishing vessel Dirigo, which also was used for day trips.

Smith said he still has family members who live in Knox County and two children. A daughter started an online crowd-funding campaign to help with his legal expenses.

Smith said he has cooperated with the federal government in its investigation of the incident. He was interviewed by the Coast Guard after the Cimarron arrived in the Virgin Islands and he agreed to an interview in December 2015 with FBI agents.

He was offered an opportunity in February 2017 to testify before a grand jury in the Virgin Islands but declined on the advice of his attorney. A month later, Smith and his attorney met with a U.S. attorney and an FBI agent at which time, he was encouraged by the federal government to plead guilty to seaman’s manslaughter before a grand jury issued an indictment. Smith declined.

Smith said the next contact he had with the federal investigators was when he was arrested.

“They were waiting on the beach for me when I arrived on the island (Nov. 2),” Smith said.


He was able to get a copy of the Coast Guard investigative report after his arrest after trying for three years to get the information.

He said the Coast Guard report shows that he was not at fault.

“I was physically, violently attacked,” Smith said.

He does not know why federal authorities are pursuing the charges against him.

“I’ve been at sea at 45 years. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve experienced 40-foot seas but I’ve never experienced something like what happened (on that October 2015 trip),” Smith said.

He said he tried to contact nearby vessels by radio to report the man overboard, but because of their distance from shore, no one could be reached. He said it took more than a day to reach anyone by radio.


The Coast Guard report states that “Once David (Pontius) jumped off the vessel and the captain saw him sink into the water and not come back up, he was relieved, because at this point David was not a threat to the crew. Hindsight is 20/20 and when not placed in a situation like that, one may ask why didn’t you search? Why didn’t you throw a life ring? …

“The captain saw him go under and not resurface, and that is why he did not turn back and search, plus he was scared to death that if he (Pontius) got back on the vessel, he would throw other people overboard.”

“I asked the captain face to face about why he did not throw the EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) out with a life ring, and he told me that he never even thought about that with all the fear and terror that was going through his mind,” the report states.

The Coast Guard report also recalls the terror experienced by the other crew members from Pontius’ behavior and attack against Smith.

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