German Shipping Companies Guilty for Illegal Dumping of Oil at Sea

Two German shipping companies pleaded guilty in early November in federal court in Houston to criminal charges that they concealed the illegal dumping of oil at sea from U.S. Coast Guard inspectors. The operator and owner of the commercial cargo vessel MV Susan K, will pay a $1.2 million dollar criminal penalty, $200,000 of which will go to the National Marine Sanctuaries Fund as a community service payment for projects aimed at preserving and restoring the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located off the Texas coast. As a condition of probation, all vessels owned or operated by the defendants will be prohibited from entering U.S. ports or waters for five years.

Federal and international law requires that cargo vessels like the M/V Susan K dispose of oily bilge waste water by using an oil water separator (OWS) or disposing of the waste water at shore facilities. The law also requires that the crew record the disposal of oily waste water in an oil record book that is presented to the Coast Guard during a port inspection.

According to the plea agreement, the chief engineer and other crew members on board the vessel repeatedly discharged oily bilge waste water from the vessel into the ocean from before Aug. 1, 2011, to March 4, 2012, by using a hose that bypassed the vessel’s OWS. The chief engineer then falsified the vessel’s oil record book to conceal the dumping from Coast Guard inspectors when the vessel entered the U.S. ports in Alaska on Jan. 24, 2012, and then in Houston on March 4, 2012.

According to court documents, the Coast Guard boarded the vessel in Houston on April 6, 2012, after receiving a tip from a lower level crew member about the illegal dumping of oil and found the hose used to dump the oily waste overboard. During the inspection, the chief engineer lied to the Coast Guard about the hose and the oil dumping and instructed a crew member to lie to the Coast Guard about the use of the hose. The three whistle blowers on the vessel who assisted in the criminal investigation were each awarded $67,000 by the court.

Overall, the companies pleaded to two obstruction of justice charges and one violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for the violations in the District of Alaska and Southern District of Texas; the single obstruction of justice charge in Alaska was transferred procedurally to Houston. On Sept. 10, 2012, the chief engineer of the vessel pleaded guilty to one criminal charge in Texas and was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year probation.

This case is being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service. It is being prosecuted by David P. Kehoe, Senior Trial Attorney, Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Gary Cobe, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, and Kevin Feldis, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Alaska.

Source: USDOJ

Comments

  1. The “magic pipe” incidents are clear deliberate violations if detected.

    But what is the motive for these violations?
    It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that these are often not willingly entered into violations. It is not as if the crew or the chief engineer are making any money from this yet the crew often bear the brunt of the punishment. Can anyone explain?

    It is usual in such cases that there is a financial incentive on offer for the whistle-blowers.
    Though the reward seems low – $67,000 each (and seems to be getting less by the case) I guess for some crew this is enough to retire from the sea and start a bar in Manilla or whatever. It suggests they are not sacrificing any great profitable scam in return for the reward. If it were at all profitable then the rewards would have to be very high and climbing for these cases to be brought (and most of those in the press seem to involve whistle blowers).

    Such cases result in the crew receiving a criminal prosecution and it can include jail time, while the owners get a fine.

    But how will this translate when applied to emissions violations?

    In the EU they are keen to adopt the whistle blower approach and they want also to make any violations a criminal offence.
    Not just deliberate frauds but accidental violations too – and anyone will tell you how uncertain fuel quality is.

    Of course, with bunker fuel, fraud for profit is a very real motive. These frauds can be perpetrated by the supplier, but they often also result from collusion between the bunker crew and the vessel’s chief engineer. There is a lot of money to be made here and it may seem that, apart from the greedy ones, if the crew is complicit they won’t be ringing up the coastguard for a trivial reward. In Singapore a couple of years back, some Bunker Surveyors were found guilty of being a party to these frauds. They each were reported to make around five times their annual salaries.That’s just their shares.

    This means that unless they can prevent such violations, they will have to rely on 100% inspections and they will have to develop a means to investigate ships at sea as they enter or leave an ECA if they are to have a chance to enforce compliance.
    There is simply too much money to be made from fuel related frauds to expect the whistle blowers to be as helpful in emissions violation incidents as they are in bilge water discharge cases.

    More likely is that the legislators will use the few serious cases they can to push through changes in fuel oil reporting. The current method was always recognised as being vulnerable – “It is too easy to falsify records and samples” says one report to the EU on MARPOL, and one suspects the reporting method was only accepted as a means to get the treaty ratified at last.

    At any rate we should perhaps not confuse the causes, incidence and detection successes for oily water discharges with the situation that exists with emissions for the simple reason that the motivation and rewards are entirely different.

    But I for one would be interested to learn just what is the motive for the oily water magic pipe violations and whether there is a case for changing the legislation e.g. to require more capacity on board or to require more of owners.

    • As far as we know the motives for OWS violations vary from getting rewarded from the US government for “whistle blowing” the violation to the USCG (ironically the whistleblower may also be the violator), to avoiding giving excuses to company’s senior officers due to a sudden increase in the bilge tank level. OWS violations may even occur due to the chief engineer’s unawareness on the correct operation and maintenance of the OWS equipment. Relevant legislation is not to change, at least for the time being.

  2. Reblogged this on SMIPP Ltd..

  3. whistleblowers are sacrificing thier career for this, and someone would say that the whistleblower can be the violator? aww common you guys.. as a seafarer from the phillipines weve taken a lot of trainings that are related to such marine pollution stuff. and ican say reporting such crime is not a violation because you have to follow certain protocols in reporting such wrongdoing.

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