ATHENS: Two Greek shipping companies were sentenced yesterday to pay corporate penalties totaling $2.7 million after being convicted for obstructing justice, violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), tampering with witnesses and conspiracy. Each company was ordered to pay part of its penalty to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in recognition of the threat posed by illegal discharges of oily waste to the marine environment.
The case stems from an inspection of the M/V Ocean Hope, a large cargo ship, conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard at the Port of Wilmington, North Carolina in July 2015. During that inspection, senior engineers for the companies tried to hide that the vessel had been dumping oily wastes into the ocean for months.
Oceanfleet Shipping Limited, the vessel’s operator, was sentenced to pay a $1,350,000 fine and make a $450,000 community service payment to Gray’s Reef. Oceanic Illsabe Limited, the vessel’s corporate owner, was sentenced to pay a $650,000 fine and make a $250,000 community service payment to the reef. Each company was placed on a five-year term of probation and barred from sending ships to United States ports until its financial penalty has been satisfied.
The sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce of the Eastern District of North Carolina.
“We are pleased with the substantial penalties imposed by the court, which reinforces that pollution doesn’t pay,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “We will continue to protect United States ports and waters, and uphold our treaty obligations, by vigorously prosecuting companies that dump oil at sea and then try to mislead U.S. Coast Guard inspectors with false statements and documents.”
The operation of commercial marine vessels generates large quantities of waste oil, oil-contaminated waste water and oil sludge. International and U.S. law forbid the discharge of oily wastes into the ocean. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an official oil record book that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The evidence at trial demonstrated that the companies maintained a lax “paper” compliance regime focused on avoiding liability rather than adequately training and supervising engineers. The companies failed to follow their own environmental policies and also ignored important red flags, such as the vessel’s failure to offload oil sludge for many months and its rare use of a pollution prevention device known as an oil-water separator. The regular dumping of tons of bilge water into the ocean continued for at least six months. In addition, and on at least two occasions, senior engineers conspired to connect a flexible hose, known in the industry as a “magic pipe,” to discharge tons of heavy oil sludge. The most recent discharge occurred in June 2015, as the vessel headed for United States waters. Coast Guard inspectors and laboratory testing confirmed the presence of heavy oils in the vessel’s overboard discharge piping.