Ship’s engineer gets probation in N.C. oil pollution case

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:
(RALEIGH, N.C.) — United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that in federal court today United States District Judge James C. Dever III, sentenced Vaja Sikharulidze, a citizen of Georgia, to one year probation to include seven days of home detention, which reflected a sentence reduction based upon his substantial cooperation in the investigation.
A Criminal Information was filed on April 23, 2010. Sikharulidze pled guilty on May 3, 2010 to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, in violation of Title 33, United States Code, Sections 1901, et. seq.
Sikharulidze, 59, was the chief engineer of the motor tanker Chem Faros, a 21,145 gross-ton ocean-going cargo ship. The ship was operated by Cooperative Success Maritime SA and regularly transported cargo between various ports in Asia and the United States, to include Morehead City, N.C.
Consistent with requirements in the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships regulations, a vessel other than an oil tanker, must maintain a record known as an Oil Record Book in which transfer and disposal of all oil-contaminated waste and the discharge overboard and disposal otherwise of such waste, must be fully and accurately recorded by the person in charge of the operations. Oil-contaminated bilge waste can be discharged overboard if it is processed through on board pollution prevention equipment known as the Oily Water Separator, which is used to separate the water from the oil and other wastes, and the effluent contains 15 parts per million or less of oil.
The investigation revealed that from March 4, 2010, through March 29, 2010, Sikharulidze, who had overall responsibility for the engine department, failed to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book for the disposals of oil residue and discharges overboard and disposals of oily sludges, oily mixtures, slops from bilges and bilge water that accumulated in machinery spaces. Specifically, the Oil Record Book failed to show discharges of oil-contaminated waste made without the use of the ship’s pollution prevention equipment.
Further, from September 2009, until March 2010, engine department crew members pumped oil-contaminated waste directly overboard by using a pipe that bypassed the Oily Water Separator.
On at least one occasion between March 4, 2010, and March 29, 2010, Sikharulidze directed subordinate crew members to bypass the ship’s Oily Water Separator and pump oil contaminated waste directly overboard. This resulted in approximately 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste to be discharged into the ocean.
As a result of Sikharulidze’s cooperation, Cooperative Success Maritime, the operator of the motor tanker Chem Faros, pled guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and to making material false statements. The company was ordered to pay a monetary penalty of $850,000 and implement an environmental compliance plan.
“Over the last 30 years we have come to realize the importance of our natural resources. Pollution prevention acts, such as the one that has been violated, were put in place to protect these resources. We will prosecute such violations aggressively in order to protect these precious resources for future generations,†stated Mr. Holding.
“This case is an example of the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice working together to enforce the laws that protect our marine environment,” said Rear Adm. Dean Lee, Coast Guard 5th District commander. “I credit the efforts of our investigators, and those of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, in holding the responsible parties accountable.”
“Mr. Sikharulidze and Cooperative Success Maritime used the oceans as dumping grounds for oily wastes, rather than treating and disposing of them safely and legally,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent-in-Charge of Environmental Protection Agencey’s criminal enforcement office in Atlanta. “This prosecution show that individuals – – as well as companies – – who enter our country and then disregard our Nation’s environmental laws and natural resources will be held accountable for their actions and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
Investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Computer Forensic Team. Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan and Trial Attorney Shennie Patel with the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section represented the government.
By Professional Mariner Staff