Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Another Shipping Line Charged Over Pollution in US Waters - Potential for 20 Year Prison Sentences

160 Year Old Group Protests Its Innocence of Oil Contamination at Sea and Witness Tampering
Shipping News Feature

US – In a case similar to several reported recently involving the illegal discharge of oil contaminated water from tankers and cargo vessels, Norwegian based ocean freight firm Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab AS (DSD Shipping) and four of its employees have pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges accusing them of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, filed by the US Department of Justice in Mobile, Alabama. Protesting its innocence, DSD Shipping, which in February of this year celebrated its 160 year anniversary, said:

“We are disappointed by the course of action taken by the Department of Justice. We believe the allegations are unfounded and we believe that a jury will agree once the facts are presented. We have offered our complete cooperation since the onset of the investigation and have made our vessel’s staff (11 personnel) in Mobile Alabama, and the company’s senior management available to the prosecution since Nov 2014.

“DSD AS, the parent company has been in the forefront of investing in environmental friendly LNG and battery powered vessels and has a strong focus on environmental excellence within all its businesses”

According to the seven-count indictment, in 2014 DSD Shipping and its employees; Daniel Paul Dancu, of Romania and Bo Gao, Xiaobing Chen, and Xin Zhong, of China, conspired to bypass pollution prevention equipment aboard the oil tanker, the Stavanger Blossom and to conceal the direct discharge of waste oil and oil-contaminated waste water from the vessel into the sea.

International and US law requires that these types of vessels use pollution prevention equipment to preclude the discharge of these materials, and should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the US Coast Guard. Despite these requirements, DSD Shipping and its employees are said to have used a bypass, or ‘magic’ pipe to circumvent pollution prevention equipment and discharge oil-contaminated products directly into the sea. DSD Shipping and its employees are also accused of filling plastic bags with waste oil from a sludge tank aboard the vessel and then discarded the bags overboard into the sea.

The indictment further alleges that prior to an inspection by the Coast Guard, Chen ordered crewmembers to remove the bypass pipe, install a new pipe, and repaint the piping to hide the illegal discharges. Chen and Zhong then ordered crewmembers to lie to the Coast Guard and instructed them to say that no plastic bags containing waste oil were discarded overboard, that all plastic bags remained aboard the vessel and to provide the incorrect quantity of bags generated from the cleaning of the sludge tank. To further hide the illegal discharges of waste oil products, DSD Shipping and its employees maintained a fictitious oil record book that failed to record the disposal, transfer, or overboard discharge of oil from the vessel. The oil record book also contained false entries stating that pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not.

DSD Shipping and the engineering officers were charged with violating the APPS for failing to record overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book and garbage record book and with obstruction of justice and witness tampering for presenting false documents and deceiving the Coast Guard during an inspection. If convicted, DSD Shipping could be fined up to $500,000 per count, in addition to other possible penalties. Dancu, Gao, Chen and Zhong face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice charges.

Photo: Oil spills are never to be taken lightly.