Ship captain sentenced to prison, barred from entering U.S. waters

The following is the text of a press release issued Oct. 15 by the U.S. Department of Justice:
(WASHINGTON) — Panagiotis Lekkas, the captain of the cargo ship, M/V Theotokos, was sentenced today in federal court in New Orleans to 10 months confinement, the Justice Department announced.
Lekkas pleaded guilty on July 15, 2009, to one count of obstruction of justice, one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, and two counts of violating the Ports and Waterways Safety Act. According to the sentence, Lekkas will serve the 10-month confinement as follows: six months in prison, followed by four months in a community confinement facility in Louisiana. Lekkas must also pay a fine of $4,000.
The sentence requires Lekkas to depart the United States within 72 hours after release from community confinement and thereafter be banned from entering the U.S., U.S. ports, or being present upon a vessel that enters into the territorial waters of the United States for a term of three years. Lekkas acknowledged that even after the three year ban, his entry into the United States could be barred by the Department of State or the Department of Homeland Security based on those departments’ own objective criteria for exclusion or visa denial.
“This sentence including the three year ban from U.S. territorial water sends the message to ship crewmembers and captains that violating environmental and ship safety laws will have consequences. We are serious and we will continue to prosecute these cases and seek sentences that appropriately punish the crime,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“I want to extend my appreciation to the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice and the United States Coast Guard for their excellent work in this, as well as other environmental investigations,” said Jim Letten, U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “We will continue to work with our partners to punish and deter environmental abuses by violators. Clean water is vital to the New Orleans region and the citizens whose absolute right to a clean and healthful environment must not be threatened.”
In a related matter, Polembros Shipping Ltd., Lekkas’ employer and the managing company of the Theotokos, pleaded guilty on Sept. 30, 2009, to violating two counts of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, one count of violating the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, one count of violating the Ports of Waterways Safety Act, and one false statements count. Polembros is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 9, 2009.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service with assistance from inspectors from Sector New Orleans as well as legal assistance from U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans and at headquarters in Washington, D.C. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section along with Dorothy Taylor of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans.
By Professional Mariner Staff