Shipboard Personnel Plead Guilty in US to Concealing Vessel Pollution

The Chief Engineer and the Second Engineer on a Cyprus-flagged vessel, pleaded guilty on July 20th, in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., to using falsified records that concealed improper discharges of untreated bilge waste from the cargo ship, the Justice Department announced.

District Court Judge Peter G. Sheridan for the District of New Jersey scheduled sentencing for September 8, 2009. Both of them each faces up to six years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

The government’s investigation began in September 2008, when inspectors from the U.S. Coast Guard conducted an examination of the vessel, following the ship’s arrival in Gravesend Anchorage, N.Y. and subsequently in the Port of Newark, N.J.  The inspections uncovered evidence that crewmembers had improperly handled and disposed of the ship’s untreated bilge waste, using a pipe to bypass its pollution control system. To conceal these activities, the engineer officers knowingly failed to record those discharges in the ship’s official oil record book.

Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels generate large amounts of waste oil and oil-contaminated bilge waste. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste containing more than 15 parts per million of oil and without treatment by an oily water separator—a required pollution prevention device. Law also requires all overboard discharges be recorded in an oil record book, a required log which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.

“Lying to the Coast Guard, obstructing a federal investigation and bypassing mandatory pollution controls is unacceptable,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “As long as individuals and companies continue to bypass this nation’s environmental laws, the Justice Department will continue to bring charges and seek justice for those involved.”

Other similar cases were also reported by DOJ few days ago. On July 15, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Captain and Chief Officer of a foreign vessel pled guilty in the Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans) to charges that included not only the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS),1 False Statements and Obstruction of Justice; but also failure to notify the Coast Guard of hazardous conditions and charges related to presentation of false or incomplete ballast tank reports.
For the first time, criminal charges were brought against a person for violation of the Non-Indigenous Aquatic Uses and Prevention Control Act 16. U.S.C. § 4711(g).

Always Prevention

The Company which implement an Environmental Management System/Compliance Program (EMS/CP)voluntarily, will achieve improved efficiency and cost saving as primary benefits. By reducing any environmental impacts, cost saving often follow financial protection of the Company against environmental violations. Another benefit of implementing an EMS/CP is that it ensures the Company’s compliance with environmental laws and regulations, thus avoiding, to the maximum extent possible, requests for criminal prosecution by USCG,  (Ref. USCG Environmental Crimes Disclosure Policy ).

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