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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Royal Canadian Navy on Friday imposed an almost total ban on sailors drinking at sea, after a warship had to be recalled from an international exercise because inebriated crew members got into trouble.
Sailors had hitherto been allowed to drink off duty. Now, they will only be able to sample alcohol on special occasions such as Christmas, if the captain gives permission.
In addition, beer vending machines will be removed from vessels. And in the rare instances when sailors are allowed to drink, they will have to pay more, since ships will hike the price of alcohol served in their onboard bars.
"The consumption of alcohol will be prohibited while ships are at sea," Royal Navy Commander vice admiral Mark Norman told reporters. "Unfortunately alcohol does contribute to misconduct and has done in the past and we just want to try and regulate that as best we can."
In July, Norman ordered the HMCS Whitehorse back to Canada from an exercise in the United States after three sailors were accused of sexual misconduct, shoplifting and drunkenness while the ship was in port.
Norman said the Whitehorse affair and several other unspecified "questionable incidents" involving drunken sailors had hurt his confidence in crews' ability to drink responsibly and behave properly while ashore.
"This is about a growing concern over a period of a couple of years where we had growing indicators of misconduct across the navy," he said.
Norman expressed confidence the ban would not hurt morale, saying sailors would understand the need to clamp down. The navies of Britain, Australia and New Zealand have similar procedures on drink, he added.
"This is a very dangerous business and there's just no place for people having access to alcohol at sea," said Norman.
The new rules will still not be as tough as those in the United States, where all ships are dry.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by David Gregorio