Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Another Multi-Million Dollar Fine for Oily Water Polluters in US Waters

Criminals Brought to Book Yet Again
Shipping News Feature

GUAM – US – While the hunt goes on for the vessel which spilled thousands of litres of oil, polluting almost 200 kilometres of Israeli coastline this week, over in the US the authorities have again successfully prosecuted some who deliberately allowed oily bilge water to be dumped into the waters of the Western Pacific US island territory in Micronesia.

In a case investigated by the US Coast Guard Sector Guam and the US Coast Guard Investigative Service, prosecution fell to Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant US Attorney Marivic P. David for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Pacific International Lines (Private) Limited (PIL) was sentenced in Hagatna, Guam, for illegally discharging oil into Apra Harbor, Guam, and for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharges of oily bilge water from the vessel Kota Harum. Chief Engineer Maung Maung Soe, and Second Engineer Peng Luo Hai had previously pled guilty and admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Kota Harum directly into the ocean and into the harbour without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment.

Soe and Hai were sentenced to two years of probation and one year of probation, respectively. Additionally, both Soe and Hai are prohibited from serving as engineers on board any commercial vessels bound for the United States during their respective terms of probation. PIL pleaded guilty to five felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain the Kota Harum’s oil record book, and one felony violation of the Clean Water Act for knowingly discharging oil into a water of the United States in a quantity that may be harmful.

The judge sentenced PIL to pay a total criminal penalty of $3 million and serve a four-year term of probation, during which all vessels operated by the company and calling on US ports will be required to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan.

Specifically, on 4 October 2019, Hai, who was employed by PIL, used the Kota Harum’s emergency fire/ballast pump to discharge oily bilge water directly overboard, leaving an oil sheen upon the water of Apra Harbor. Additionally, Soe, who was also employed by PIL, admitted that excessive leaks in the vessel caused oily bilge water to accumulate in the vessel’s engine room bilge at a rate that exceeded the oil water separator’s (required pollution prevention machinery) processing capacity.

Rather than repairing these leaks before continuing to sail or storing the oily bilge water in holding tanks to be discharged to shore-side reception facilities, it was the routine practice on board the Kota Harum to discharge the oily bilge water directly overboard into the ocean. Soe then failed to record these improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book. Additionally, Soe admitted that he altered the vessel’s sounding log so that it would appear as though oily bilge water was being stored in the vessel’s holding tank instead of being pumped overboard.

Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. The defendants also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law. Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said:

“This case was particularly egregious as it not only involved oily waste discharges out at sea, but also in the Port of Guam itself. I’d like to thank the stevedores at the Port of Guam who reported the oil discharge to authorities. The Department of Justice and our partner agencies will continue to ensure that polluters who threaten our natural resources are held fully accountable under the law.”

US Attorney Shawn N. Anderson of the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands said the case demonstrated a continued commitment to enforcing federal environmental laws, and that there would be substantial penalties imposed on vessel owners and their crews who used the local waters as dumping grounds, and Josh Empen, Deputy Commander, Coast Guard Sector Guam, added:

“This case is a strong example of how the US Coast Guard environmental protection missions safeguard our shared natural resources. We are very thankful to have an expert team of pollution investigators, port state control examiners, and Coast Guard Investigative Service agents who are dedicated to the mission and allowed referral of the case to the US Attorney. I would also like to thank the professional men and women of the Port Authority of Guam who reported the illegal discharge to the National Response Center.”