Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ocean Tanker Group Fined $1.2 Million After Liquid Freight Carrier Discharges Pollutants

Shipping Industry Told 'Environmental Crimes Will Not be Tolerated'
Shipping News Feature

US – Singapore based bulk liquid freight carrier Odfjell Asia II Pte, a subsidiary of the Norwegian based Odfjell Group, plus one of the company’s senior crew members, have pleaded guilty in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut, for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) on charges related to the illegal discharge of waste oil and oil-contaminated waste water. As we predicted in December this type of case is likely to become more common as more stringent control of environmental regulations bite. The company now faces a $1.2 million penalty with the employee, Senior Engineer Ramil Leuterio employed aboard the tanker Bow Lind, facing imprisonment as well as a maximum fine of $250,000. After the case acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher said:

“The defendants violated environmental laws that protect our oceans, the world’s fisheries and marine life, from harmful pollution. Today's [Tuesday 4 March] conviction ensures they will be held accountable with a stiff criminal fine, contribute to conservation efforts in coastal areas of Long Island, and submit to strict monitoring. We hope this sends a strong message to the shipping industry that committing environmental crimes at sea will not be tolerated.”

Under the terms of a binding plea agreement, if accepted by the court, Odfjell will be placed on probation for a period of three years and pay a criminal penalty totalling $1.2 million, including $300,000 that will be directed to The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects aimed at the preservation and restoration of the marine environment of Long Island Sound.

Leuterio, a citizen of the Philippines, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the act for his role in directing lower ranking crewmembers to make the illegal discharges and for failing to accurately maintain the vessel’s oil record book. He faces a maximum term of imprisonment of six years and a fine of up to $250,000. 

Documentation and statements made in court showed that Odfjell Asia II operated the 46,047 dwt petroleum/chemical tanker M/T Bow Lind which was boarded in New Haven by the US Coast Guard on November 6, 2012, for inspection. The inspection and subsequent criminal investigation revealed that three times between October 2011 and October 2012, while in international waters, the vessel discharged machinery space bilge water directly into the sea. At the direction of Leuterio, crew members bypassed pollution prevention equipment that was in place to ensure that any discharged bilge water contain less than 15 parts per million of oil. The crew then concealed the illegal discharges by making misleading entries and omissions in the vessel’s oil record book.

According to several engine room crew members, Leuterio directed them to use a complex system to transfer the bilge water from the bilge holding tank to the sewage tank. From the sewage tank, the bilge water was dumped directly into the sea without passing through pollution prevention equipment. Once the bilge holding tank was emptied, Leuterio directed the lower ranking crew members to put clean fresh water and salt water into the tank. As the pollution prevention equipment automatically records the time it is being operated, Leuterio then processed the clean water through the prevention equipment, thereby creating an electronic record to account for the bilge water that had bypassed the equipment and been discharged directly overboard.

As a condition of probation, Odfjell will implement an environmental management plan which will ensure that any ship operated by Odfjell calling on a port of the United States complies with all maritime environmental requirements established under applicable international, flag state, and port state laws. The plan ensures that Odfjell’s employees and the crew of any vessel operated by Odfjell that calls on a United States port are properly trained in preventing maritime pollution. An independent monitor will report to the court regarding Odfjell’s compliance with these obligations during the period of probation. US Attorney Deirdre Daly said:

“Pollution of our waters will not be tolerated. Shipping companies are on notice that violating American environment laws will result in federal prosecution and puts at risk their business interests in this country. Crew members who ignore these laws may also face incarceration. Although these illegal discharges of oily waste occurred in international waters, we are gratified that a quarter of the $1.2 million monetary penalty will fund improvements and protection of the Long Island Sound, a vital economic and recreational resource that contains many unique wildlife habitats.”