US fines bulker operator $1.5 million for 'magic pipe' violations

The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Justice Department:

(WASHINGTON) — On Thursday, Portline Bulk International S.A. pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston, S.C., to one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one count of obstruction. The charges stem from the falsification of the oil record book onboard M/V Achilleus, a Maltese-flagged oceangoing bulk carrier ship managed by defendant Portline.

From April 2017 to August 2018, senior members of the vessel’s engineering team oversaw and participated in the bypass of the ship’s oil water separator utilizing a yellow plastic hose, referred to as a magic pipe. The ship’s chief engineer made a series of fake entries and key omissions in the oil record book in order to conceal the illegal overboard discharges of oily bilge water. On Aug. 14, 2018, the false oil record book was presented to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) during an inspection in the Port of Charleston.

According to court documents, Portline has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $1.5 million when the company is sentenced at a future date. The company would also be placed on organizational probation for four years, which includes an environmental compliance plan.

“The world’s oceans are not a dumping ground for criminals who seek to evade our nation’s environmental laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the department’s commitment to protecting coastal communities through rigorous enforcement of the rule of law."

“Our team of dedicated marine safety and pollution response professionals worked closely with the Coast Guard Investigative Service to investigate this incident and refer it for enforcement action,” said Capt. John Reed, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston. “This case highlights the Coast Guard’s unwavering commitment to the stewardship of the ocean and its critical marine environment.”

On June 17, 2019, the ship’s former chief engineer, Anatoli Zotsenko, and second engineer, Valerii Pastushenko, who had previously pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, were sentenced to fines totaling $12,500 and three years’ probation. The probation term includes a special condition that bans Zotsenko and Pastushenko from entering ports and anchorages of the United States.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston and the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The USCG Marine Safety Lab was critical to the analysis of oil samples taken from the vessel. The case was prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and Matt Austin from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.

By Professional Mariner Staff