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Shipping firms fined $1.3m for dumping oily waste and cover-up

24 Oct 2016 09:50 GMT

Oily waste discharged on voyage to Seattle; false log books given to Coast Guard inspectors.



The ship owner and operator of the cargo ship M/V Gallia Graeca [pictured] were fined $1.3 million by a U.S court on Friday for the dumping of oily waste at sea and a subsequent cover-up.

The sentencing of ship operator Angelakos (Hellas) S.A. and ship owner Gallia Graeca Shipping Ltd. comes four months after the companies were found guilty in June for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, falsification of records in a federal investigation and engaging in a scheme to defraud the United States.

The trial

According to records filed in the case and testimony at trial, the M/V Gallia Graeca travelled from China to Seattle in October 2015. During the voyage, a pollution-control device known as an oil water separator was inoperable.

On 16th, 26th and 27th October 2015, the defendants were deemed to have discharged overboard approximately 5,000 gallons of oily bilge water and concealing these incidents from the Coast Guard by making false statements to inspectors and making false entries and omissions in the ship's oil record book.

When Coast Guard inspectors asked the engineers to operate the oil water separator during the inspection, the engineers did so in such a way that the equipment appeared to be working properly, even though it was not.

The inspectors examined the oil water separator and found its filters were clogged with oil and found oil residue in the overboard discharge piping. Records indicated the oil water separator had not been serviced for months prior to the voyage from China.

The defendants presented the Coast Guard with an official oil record book stating that bilge water had not been discharged during the voyage to Seattle. However, the Coast Guard investigation discovered evidence that oily water had been discharged into the sea three times on its voyage from China.

Calling it 'a voyage of deception and pollution", prosecutors argued that the engineers tried to hide the pollution from the Coast Guard to avoid having the ship detained in Seattle. Keeping the ship on schedule was a benefit to the owners and operators who had a contract to move $25 million in goods out of Seattle. Shipping company executives were said to have been in contact with the engineers about how they should present the log book for the Coast Guard inspection.

"Through strong partnerships with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office and our Coast Guard Investigative Service, this case demonstrates our commitment to hold accountable shipping companies engaged in illegal activities," said Captain Joe Raymond, Coast Guard Captain of the Port Puget Sound. "The Coast Guard will protect our marine environment through coordination with international, national, regional and local partners and will promote sustainable development of our nation's ocean resources by enforcing pollution prevention laws and regulations and maintaining a robust vessel inspection program."

Sentencing

The companies were placed on five years of probation and required to have environmental compliance plans in place to ensure they abide by anti-pollution policies and regulations.

In addition to the $1.3 million fine, U.S. District Judge Coughenour ordered a $200,000 community service payment to be shared between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks Foundation. The payment will go to fund marine restoration and preservation projects in the Pacific Ocean, the site of the pollution incident.

The two engineers who operated the ship's equipment and falsified the log books were sentenced to short prison terms before returning to Greece.

In imposing the monetary penalty, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour for the Western District of Washington said he hoped the sanctions "would resonate and cause other companies to pause when they think about creating a corporate culture that encourages deception."

"These companies promoted a culture of lies and lawlessness that left a trail of pollution in the Pacific Ocean," said U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes. "Knowing that the Coast Guard was going to do an inspection of their shipping vessel, corporate managers allowed the Chief Engineer to present falsified documents. The significant fines imposed in this case send a clear message that those who spoil our environment by putting their business interests ahead of our laws will be held responsible."




Related Links:

D'Amico officers admit oil pollution cover up
Seattle court convicts shipping firms of dumping oily waste
German shipping firms fined for illegally discharging oil into the sea
Kirby fined $4.9m for Houston bunker spill
Startup develops sponge-forming solution that absorbs oil
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