Friday, December 19, 2014

Cargo Vessel's Chief Engineer Could Face 35 Years in Jail

Environmental Crimes by Greek and Italian Operators Mean Millions of Dollars in Fines and Possible Long Prison Terms
Shipping News Feature

US – The Chief Engineer from the 75,600-dwt bulk cargo ship Trident Navigator, has been convicted by a federal jury in New Orleans of environmental crimes, obstruction of justice and witness tampering, whilst in a different trial, Italian Shipping firm Carbofin, pleaded guilty to environmental crimes for concealing vessel pollution. In the two cases, the ships were both found to have utilised a bypass system, known as a ‘magic pipe’, to discharge sludge, waste oil, and machinery space bilge water into the sea in contravention of maritime regulations.

After a week-long trial, 64 year old Greek national Matthaios Fafalios, was convicted of knowingly falsifying the Trident Navigator’s oil record book, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, after two crewmembers reported the illegal discharge of oily waste water to the Coast Guard. In late December 2013, Fafalios ordered his engineering crew to construct the ‘magic pipe’ that could be connected between the vessel’s bilge pump and overboard discharge valve. The purpose of the bypass was to discharge the contents of the ship’s bilge tank directly into the sea, circumventing the ship’s Oil Water Separator and Oil Content Monitor.

The ‘magic pipe’ was removed after the discharge was completed and the discharge was not recorded in the vessel’s Oil Record Book as required. Fafalios additionally confiscated a crew member’s phone which contained a photograph of the installed ‘magic pipe’ and deleted that photo. When coast guard inspectors boarded the vessel in January 2014, Fafalios attempted to hide critical documents from the inspectors that indicated the illegal discharge occurred. Additionally, Fafalios ordered engineers under his command to lie to the Coast Guard about the illegal oily waste water discharge.

The operator of the Marshall Island’s flagged vessel, Marine Managers, a Liberian corporation headquartered in Piraeus, Greece, had previously pleaded guilty to knowingly falsifying the oil record book and obstruction of justice and paid a total criminal penalty of $900,000. Fafalios could face a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes with maximum sentences 10 years and a financial penalty for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), 5 years and a financial penalty for obstruction of justice, and 20 years for witness tampering. In a similar case last year, the Chief Engineer and the Second Engineer of the Thetis faced charges similar to those of their boss, with the prosecution asking for up to fourteen years behind bars. In that case, the Judge opted for leniency handing the two men a year’s probation and no financial penalty.

Meanwhile, the Genoa, Italy based Carbofin pleaded guilty to violating APPS by falsifying required ships’ documents to hide the fact that its semi-refrigerated LPG vessel, MT Marigola had illegally discharged oil contaminated waste into the ocean on multiple occasions. Under the terms of its plea agreement, Carbofin agreed to pay a $2.75 million criminal penalty, $600,000 of which will be designated as community service and used to support the protection and preservation of natural resources located in and adjacent to the Florida National Keys Marine Sanctuary.

Alessandro Messore, Second Engineer aboard the Marigola, pleaded guilty to one count of violating APPS for his role in the offense. Chief Engineer Carmelo Giano, who was the person responsible for maintaining the ship’s oil record book, is expected to enter a plea to one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

The investigation began in April 2014, when the vessel called at the Port of Tampa to unload its cargo. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the ship to conduct a Port State Control examination, during which, two crewmembers approached the inspectors and provided them with a video that showed a black hose connected between two points in the engine room. After reviewing the video and speaking with the crewmembers, the inspectors were able to determine that once again the magic hose had been used on multiple occasions to discharge sludge, waste oil, and machinery space bilge water directly into the sea, bypassing the ship’s required pollution prevention equipment.

Crewmembers told the inspectors that while in international waters, Giano had directed them on at least two occasions to bypass controls and discharge the waste products directly into the sea. None of the magic hose discharges were recorded as required in the ship’s official oil record book maintained by Giano, thereby giving the false and misleading impression that all of the ship’s waste was being properly treated and disposed of. The investigation also revealed that Messore, on the instructions of Giano, had on several occasions ordered the ship’s engineering cadet to hook up the magic hose and then personally discharged the sludge, waste oil, and bilge water directly into the sea, under the cover of darkness while the vessel was in international waters.