Feds win four more oil pollution cases

The Justice Department has announced four more successful prosecutions for violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships (APPS), making it clear that dumping waste at sea and covering it up — two acts that investigators discovered go hand in hand — are costly crimes. In one case, a former chief engineer was sentenced to six months in prison.

According to APPS, the oil content of discharges from ships must be no more than 15 parts per million, a measure that is achieved through the use of oil pollution control equipment, called an oil-water separator. In these cases, the engineers on board, or people working under their direction, took shortcuts that bypassed this oil pollution control equipment and led to the illegal discharge of oily sludge into the ocean.In November 2007, a Maine federal court sentenced Petraia Maritime Ltd. to pay $525,000 and serve two years probation following a conviction of failing to maintain a record of its overboard discharges of oily bilge waste. The discharges were conducted without the mandated pollution control equipment aboard the MV Kent Navigator.

That vessel was headed to Portland, Maine, in 2004. Two chief engineers on board admitted to making false statements to the Coast Guard regarding their role in an attempted cover-up.

In Baltimore in January, Mark Humphries, the former chief engineer of the MV Tanabata, an American-flagged car-carrier ship based in Baltimore, was sentenced to six months in prison for conspiracy to make illegal discharges of oily waste and lying to the Coast Guard. At trial, federal prosecutors said they proved that the MV Tanabata had a removable bypass pipe that was used to discharge oily waste without the use of an oil-water separator.

This, in conjunction with making false entries in the ship’s Oil Record Book, led to Humphries’ conviction. At court, testimony showed Humphries had carried out similar illegal actions on other ships. In addition to six months imprisonment, Humphries was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and two years supervised release.

Co-defendant Stephen Karas, also a chief engineer on board, pleaded guilty to similar charges last May, and is awaiting sentencing.

Pacific Gulf Marine Inc. (PGM), owners of the MV Tanabata, pleaded guilty in January 2007 to charges of making illegal discharges of oil-contaminated waste from each of four ships managed by the company. After learning of the investigation, PGM conducted and voluntarily disclosed the results of an internal investigation and cooperated with investigators and prosecutors.

PGM was sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine and $500,000 in community service payments, and to serve three years probation under the terms of an Environmental Compliance Program that includes audits by an outside firm and review by a court appointed monitor. In addition to Humphries and Karas, two other chief engineers have also pleaded guilty to similar crimes.

In late February, a fifth PGM engineer saw his day in court. Patrick Brown, the former chief engineer of the MV Fidelio, renamed the MV Patriot, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement in a ship’s Oil Record Book. He is expected to be sentenced in May.

Also in February, Italian shipping company B. Navi Ship Management Services and Chief Engineer Dushko Babukchiev pleaded guilty in connection with the illegal dumping of oily sludge, bilge wastes and oil-contaminated ballast water from the MV Windsor Castle. The 27,000-gross-ton bulk carrier vessel was headed to Houston in August 2007 when the incident happened.

When Coast Guard investigators boarded the ship on arrival, they learned that the chief engineer had ordered crewmembers to dump oil into the sea and then falsify records to the contrary. The company pleaded guilty to violating the APPS, and the engineer admitted to making false statements to the Coast Guard. The company is expected to receive its sentencing in April.

The Justice Department says it does not take these crimes lightly.

“Deliberate violations of the environmental laws protecting our oceans will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Ron Tenpas.

The cases have prompted at least one of the companies to reinforce its seafarers’ role in ensuring that the employer obeys environmental laws.

“We’ve made a commitment early on to become much more proactive,” Todd Johnson, president of Gretna, La.-based Pacific Gulf Marine, told Professional Mariner. “We’re pushing more training and the educational aspect in the environmental awareness issue and the legal aspects that they’re aware of already by virtue of being a licensed mariner and often attending various maritime academies.”

Officials at B. Navi Ship Management, based in Marina di Carrara, Italy, would not comment on the Windsor Castle pollution case until after sentencing.

Petraia Maritime officials could not be reached for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff