Terminal operator admits bribing ship captain to illegally dump fertilizer

A marine terminal operator has pleaded guilty to violating the federal Ocean Dumping Act after investigators said an employee bribed a freighter captain $1,100 to discard an unwanted fertilizer chemical off the Oregon coast.

The admission by Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals Inc. (KMBT) culminated a five-year probe. The Louisiana-based company is expected to pay a total monetary penalty of $240,000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case arose out of a whistleblower claim that was filed in 2003 with the Environmental Protection Agency by Jerry Cressa, a former Port of Portland longshoreman and long-time community activist. Cressa, who was not employed by the port at the time, and other dockworkers reported that KMBT bribed a freighter captain with $1,100 in cash to dispose of 159 tons of off-specification potash (potassium chloride), a salt product used as fertilizer, at its Portland T-5 Terminal.

According to the DOJ, in August 2003 KBMT received the off-specification shipment for a Canadian client, Canpotex. When company inspectors determined that the product was unusable, an unidentified terminal employee contracted with the master of J/A Aladdin Dream II to deck load the off-specification cargo and dispose of it at sea.

The actual dumping is alleged to have occurred on August 6 at about 2000 at an unknown location off the coast of Oregon. Had Kinder Morgan properly disposed of the off-specification cargo, it would have cost the company approximately $40,000.

Initially Kinder Morgan denied any charges of wrongdoing. In a February 9, 2004 press release, the company portrayed Cressa as a disgruntled employee whose anger stemmed from damage to his truck at the terminal. Cressa pressed the DOJ, the EPA, the Port of Portland officials and his union to investigate the incident. According to Cressa, he received little cooperation from anyone and was never interviewed in the case. Now after five years and in spite of Kinder Morgan’s plea, Cressa feels that what he perceives as a five-year attempt to cover-up has not been addressed in spite of the fine.

“Integrity has been thrown overboard, not only by the maritime industry but by the government, when a fine replaces exposure of the whole truth,” Cressa told Professional Mariner. “We need to know the truth in order to change the mind-set that allowed this to happen.”

The filing comes after U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) asked federal investigators to look into the case four years after it was first reported to the EPA.

The DOJ said 35 percent of the fine will be directed toward environmental projects through the Oregon Governor’s Fund for the Environment. Arraignment and sentencing are scheduled for August 13 at 0930 in federal court in Portland.

Kinder Morgan officials declined to comment.

No charges were made against the captain of the vessel nor its owner or operator. The freighter is owned by Yahata Trader and operated by Kobe Shipping is registered in Panama.

By Professional Mariner Staff