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German shipping firms fined for illegally discharging oil into the sea

16 Mar 2016 13:13 GMT

Companies sentenced to pay $1.25 million in fines and a $250,000 community service payment.



German shipping companies Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG and Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG MS Extum, who owned and operated the cargo ship M/V BBC Magellan, have pleaded guilty to failure to maintain an accurate oil record book, in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, and tampering with witnesses by persuading them to provide false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard concerning a bypass hose on the vessel that was being used to discharge oil into the sea.

The two companies were sentenced to pay a total of $1.25 million in fines and a $250,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects that enhance coastal habitats of the Gulf of Mexico and bolster priority fish and wildlife populations. In addition, the ship M/V BBC Magellan is banned from doing business in the United States for the next five years.

The pleas and sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova for the Northern District of Florida.

The operation of a marine vessel, such as the M/V BBC Magellan, generates large quantities of waste oil and oil-contaminated waste water. International and U.S. law requires that these vessels use pollution prevention equipment to preclude the discharge of these materials. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In March 2015, during an inspection at the Port of Pensacola, the U.S. Coast Guard said it discovered an improperly attached rubber hose. Officials later determined that, between January and March 2015, the crew of the M/V BBC Magellan, acting on behalf of the vessel's owner, had installed and illegally used the rubber hose to remove oily wastes from the vessel's holding tanks and discharged them directly into the ocean. The crew was also said to have failed to make the required entries in the vessel's oil record book. When questioned about the hose's purpose and how oily wastes were discharged from the ship, the chief engineer is said to have instructed other crew members to lie to the Coast Guard.

"Shipping companies that transport commerce across open seas must respect the international laws and obligations of their trade, which exist to prevent the spoiling of oceans and marine habitat," stated Assistant Attorney General Cruden. "This egregious behaviour by shipping companies, which included intentional deception and witness tampering, will not be tolerated. We will continue to prosecute companies and their officers for these crimes."

"Future generations deserve to enjoy clean and safe coastal waters, and we will continue to prosecute environmental crimes to prevent pollution of our natural resources," said Acting U.S. Attorney Canova. "Our federal environmental laws rightfully require companies to record their oil waste disposal to keep them accountable and to protect our oceans and marine life."

"When a company knowingly fails to comply with our nation's environmental laws, it can have a devastating effect on both public health and wildlife," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Andy Castro of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) criminal enforcement program in Florida. "The defendants in this case falsified entries in their vessel's log books to hide the true nature of its open water discharges. Today's court action should signal to would-be violators that the American people will not allow the flagrant violation of U.S. laws."

The case was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the EPA. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Ryan Love for the Northern District of Florida and Trial Attorney Brandy N. Parker of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division.




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