Third crew member pleads guilty in ship oil pollution case

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice:
(WASHINGTON) — A Greek citizen who oversaw the engineering department on board a Dominica-flagged bulk cargo ship pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in New Orleans for violating environmental laws designed to prevent pollution from ships and making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Justice Department announced.
Georgios Stamou, the chief engineer of the M/V Theotokos, pleaded guilty to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one felony violation for making a false statement. Stamou is the third crewmember to plead guilty to crimes related to pollution from Theotokos while on the high seas. The captain of the ship, Panagiotis Lekkas, and the second ranking officer, Charles P. Posas, both pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts on July 15, 2009.

“Illegal pollution from ships continues to be a problem. Failing to properly dispose of bilge waste and lying to Coast Guard inspectors is unacceptable, and those who choose to ignore the law face prosecution,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“This case clearly demonstrates the Coast Guard’s commitment to work with our interagency partners to aggressively enforce all maritime anti-pollution and safety of life at sea laws. The breadth and magnitude of the investigation that underpinned the charges brought forth is a testament to the dedication of all persons who were involved in resolving this matter including the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” said Rear Admiral Mary Landry, Eighth District Coast Guard commander.

According to court documents, Stamou was in charge of the engineering department and oversaw the ship’s machinery spaces, engines, propulsion system, and pollution prevention equipment including the oily water separator. At some point during Stamou’s employment on board the vessel, the oil water separator ceased functioning. During a voyage from Korea to Panama, Stamou spoke with a company representative and notified him that there was a problem with the oily water separator. Stamou did not utilize the oil water separator and directed crewmembers to discharge bilge waste that had accumulated during regular operation of the ship.

Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels such as the M/V Theotokos generate oil-contaminated bilge waste. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of bilge waste containing more than 15 parts per million of oil without treatment by an oily water separator – a required pollution prevention device. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and federal law also require all overboard discharges be recorded in an oil record book, a standardized log which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.

Stamou at the time of his discharge directive was aware that bilge waste can only be legally disposed of at a shore side facility while at port or after being filtered through an oily water separator so that it contains less than 15 parts per million of petroleum. In court papers, Stamou admitted that he knew that to carry out his directive, the crew would discharge the waste directly overboard by routing the waste through the bilge line or sewage discharge valve, and not through the oil water separator. Additionally, none of the discharges were recorded, as required, in the vessel’s oil record book.

On Oct. 1, 2008, the Coast Guard boarded the Theotokos at Kenner Bend Achorage in Louisiana for a port state control inspection to ascertain its compliance with health, safety, and anti-pollution protocols. At that time, Stamou presented the false oil record book to Coast Guard inspectors.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Stamou for Nov 5, 2009. Sentencing for both Lekkas and Posas is set for Oct. 14, 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 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