Wednesday, December 2, 2020

More Millions of Dollars in Fines as Another Marine Polluter Captured by US Authorities

Yet More False Oil Discharge Incidents See Crew Banned from America
Shipping News Feature

US – Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), a Singapore-based company that owns subsidiaries engaged in international shipping, has been sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, obstruction of justice, and for a failure to notify the US Coast Guard of a hazardous condition on the MV Pac Antares. In other words yet another in a litany of Magic Pipe and similar incidents.

For PCL this is not the first time it has been dragged before the Court. In April 2018, she collided with a pier on the lower Mississippi River near New Orleans spilling an estimated 4,200 gallons of fuel. In 2008, the Pac Antares was involved in another prosecution in Wilmington, North Carolina, for concealing the overboard discharge of oily bilge water and suffered a total criminal penalty of $2,100,000. This time the price was much higher.

PCL pleaded guilty to a total of eight felony offences across three judicial districts when before US District Court Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern, North Carolina. For criminal acts in the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Southern District of Texas, and the Eastern District of Louisiana, PCL was sentenced to pay a fine of $12 million and placed on probation for a period of four years.

In addition the company was ordered to implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan as a special condition of probation. The Chief Engineer, Wenguang Ye, pleaded guilty to falsifying the oil record book, and was sentenced to a fine of $5,500 and banned from entering the United States for one year after choosing to cooperate in the investigation.

The offences were manifold, pleading guilty PCL admitted that crew members on board the Pac Antares, a 20,471 gross-tonne, 586-foot ocean-going commercial bulk carrier, knowingly failed to record in the vessel’s oil record book the overboard discharge of oily bilge water and oil waste without the use of required pollution-prevention equipment, from approximately April 2019 until the vessel arrived in Morehead City, North Carolina, on Sept. 29, 2019.

PCL also admitted that the crew discharged oily garbage and plastic overboard and falsified the garbage record book and furthermore admitted that a large space along the keel of the vessel, known as the duct keel, was being used to store oily waste which constituted a hazardous condition under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act and it should have been immediately reported to the US Coast Guard Sector North Carolina.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division commented:

“This kind of deliberate evasion of our pollution control laws will not be tolerated. The Environmental Crimes Section proudly works hand-in-hand with US Attorneys’ Offices and law enforcement partners around the country to investigate and prosecute the intentional violation of our laws that protect our oceans by commercial ship owners, operators, and personnel. It’s also essential that we demand the safe operation of ships in our ports.”

According to the plea agreement, PCL is the parent company of two other companies that owned and operated the MV Pac Antares. On Sept. 29, 2019, the vessel arrived in Morehead City, North Carolina. A crew member walked off the ship and informed a Customs and Border Protection officer that he had information about illegal discharges that had taken place on the vessel.

The US Coast Guard was sent that information and conducted an inspection and examination. Examiners discovered and seized a large trove of evidence that oily waste and garbage had been discharged from the vessel to include a configuration of drums, flexible hoses and flanges to bypass the vessel’s oily water separator, those 'magic pipe' consituent parts. Rear Adm. Laura Dickey, Coast Guard Fifth District Commander, observed:

“The Coast Guard remains dedicated to preserving the marine environment and protecting our living marine resources. The results of this case showcase the commitment and meticulous efforts of our marine safety professionals, pollution responders and Coast Guard agents in North Carolina, and the great partnership we share with the Department of Justice.”

Examiners also discovered that oily waste had been discharged through a laundry sink which subsequently discharged directly overboard or through the vessel’s sewage system. Examiners discovered the sewage system was contaminated with oil. Crew members also admitted that bags filled with oily rags were thrown over the side of the ship.

These discharges were knowingly not recorded in the Pac Antares’s oil record book and garbage record book when they were presented to the US Coast Guard during the vessel’s inspection. The examiners also found over 60,000 gallons of oily water being stored in the ‘duct keel’ which took several days and a third-party contractor to properly clean out. Speaking after the case US Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said:

“US Attorneys all over the country work together enforcing federal laws. Some laws, like environmental crimes, can impact multiple districts at the same time. Foreign ships, because of corruption, incompetence or parsimony that dump their sewage or oil bilge in our waters will be held accountable. The Houston ship channel is a vital engine to the world’s economy and it requires all vessels to respect our laws if they want access to our port.”

The prosecution was the result of an investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, Wilmington Office, Marine Safety Detachment Fort Macon, and Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. US Attorney Peter G. Strasser for the Eastern District of Louisiana, added:

“Safeguarding the environment is one of the highest priorities for the Department of Justice. The US Attorney’s Office is committed to continue working with its federal partners to investigate and hold entities accountable when they neglect their professional and legal obligations and threaten the environment, which places the public and the ecosystem in South Eastern Louisiana at risk.”

Photo: An oil slick coats the Mississippi River in 2018 after another incident. Courtesy of Rex da Cajun.