Tanker owner guilty of falsifying papers, obstruction

(WASHINGTON) — Liquimar Tankers Management Services Inc. and Evridiki Navigation Inc. were sentenced after being convicted at trial on all charges, including violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, falsifying ships’ documents, obstructing a U.S. Coast Guard inspection and making false statements to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Andrews for the District of Delaware sentenced the corporations to a $3 million criminal fine and a five-year period of probation. Evridiki was fined $2 million and Liquimar was fined $1 million.

The oil tanker Evridiki. VesselFinder.com photo

In March 2019, the tanker Evridiki was inspected by the Coast Guard in Big Stone Anchorage within Delaware Bay after a delivery of crude oil. The jury found that during the inspection, Liquimar, Evridiki and the ship’s chief engineer, Nikolaos Vastardis, tried to deceive Coast Guard inspectors regarding the use of the ship’s oily water separator (OWS) and oil content meter (OCM), a required pollution prevention device.

Vastardis used a hidden valve to trap fresh water inside the sample line so that the OCM sensor registered zero parts per million concentration of oil instead of what was really being discharged overboard. The Coast Guard and government experts were able to prove that the OCM was being tricked with fresh water by analyzing historic data recovered from the machine’s memory chip.

When the Coast Guard opened the OWS, they found it was inoperable and fouled with copious amounts of oil and soot. Vastardis’ conviction was upheld in December 2021 by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected a challenge to U.S. jurisdiction over foreign vessels.

“Ocean outlaws and polluters such as these will continue to be vigorously prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

At sentencing Thursday, the government provided new evidence, based on a forensic examination of the ship’s computers, that Liquimar was also making and using fake and forged certificates regarding safety and environmental requirements. Fake certificates and fake seals, to imprint on the certificates, were emailed to the ship by senior shoreside employees including the designated person ashore – a required manager under international law who is charged with ensuring the vessel and its crew abide by the law.

At least three senior employees of Liquimar were involved with creating and sending the fake certificates. The fake certificates related to the calibration of the OCM and whether pressure relief valves for the cargo were actually tested properly. A fake OCM certificate was used during the Coast Guard inspection and Vastardis was specifically asked about the validity of the certificate.

The Coast Guard further discovered that the data stored on the OCM indicated the OCM was not energized on the date that the fake certificate claimed the OCM was calibrated. In addition, the certificate for the pressure relief valves was noted to be false because it had claimed that the system was tested on a date that the cargo tanks were full, which is impossible.

Referring to the forged documents as the “elephant in the room” which the defendants asked judge to ignore, federal prosecutors told the court that the companies’ “failure to address, let along mention this willful misconduct, demonstrates that these defendants are willfully blind if not completely unrepentant.”

Senior litigation counsel Richard A. Udell and senior trial attorney Kenneth E. Nelson, both of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, represented the government at trial. Assisting in the prosecution were trial attorney Joel La Bissonniere with the Environmental Crimes Section, and Lt. Cmdr. Ben Robinson, attorney with the Coast Guard’s Office of Maritime and International Law.

The Coast Guard’s Investigative Service investigated the case with assistance from the Coast Guard’s Sector Delaware Bay and Marine Safety Detachment in Lewes, Del.

– U.S. Department of Justice

By Rich Miller