Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Dumping of Bilge Waste from Tanker Means Huge Fine for Ship Management Company

Another Transgression in US Waters Ends with Largest Ever Hawaiian Penalty
Shipping News Feature

US – Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore), a vessel operating company, has pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from the tanker Topaz Express, a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

US District Judge Derrick Watson of the District of Hawaii accepted the guilty plea. Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and vessel Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan previously pled guilty to their involvement in the offence.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Bernhard Schulte will pay a total fine of $1,750,000 and serve a 4-year term of probation. This is the largest fine ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offence. Bernhard Schulte further must implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan, which applies to all 38 vessels operated by the company that call in to US ports.

According to court documents and information presented in court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from the Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment. Bilge waste typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. The defendants admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law. US Attorney Kenji M. Price, commented:

”Prosecutions like this one are important because, by holding companies accountable for the harm they cause to the ocean’s ecosystem, we do our part to protect the planet and its finite resources. In Hawaii, we are surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and companies that intentionally damage the ocean’s ecosystem must be held accountable for their criminal conduct. My office will continue to bring to justice companies that illegally discharge bilge waste into the ocean and then attempt to conceal their misconduct.”

Specifically, on three separate occasions between May and July 2019, Bernhard Schulte, acting through Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan, used a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass the ship’s pollution prevention equipment and discharge bilge waste directly into the ocean. They then failed to record the improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.

Additionally, during the US Coast Guard’s inspection of the Topaz Express, Reddy destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged overboard without being processed through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment. Speaking after the verdict Capt. Arex Avanni, commander, Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, said:

“This case was built on the hard work of Coast Guard inspectors and investigators and we appreciate the strong partnership with the Department of Justice to hold polluters accountable. All vessel owners and operators are responsible for maintaining their vessels and preventing illegal discharges of oily wastes into the ocean. We are committed to the people of Hawaii to protect our waters and the Pacific Ocean from the damage caused by pollution from illegal dumping.”

The time the offences occurred was not a good one for the group. In June last year the Bernhard Schulte managed product carrier Kokuka Courageous was involved in the infamous case of an Iranian patrol boat seen apparently removing limpet mines from her hull.

Photo: courtesy of John Wilson.