Thursday, May 1, 2014

Two Container Shipping Lines Fined in Pollution Incidents from Cargo Ships

Penalties for Transgressors on Both Sides of the Atlantic as Whistle-blowers Collect Half Million Dollar Windfall
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – US – The operator of a UK registered container ship has been fined £17,311 by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency for breaching oil pollution legislation, whilst over in the US a German shipper has been sentenced to pay a $1 million fine and another $250,000 to support environmental causes after pleading guilty to two felony environmental charges related to a cargo ship that entered the Port of Long Beach last year with an open crack in its hull that may have caused oil to leak into the port’s Californian waters.

First to the UK where the 7,204 dwt Ever Sigma, operated by Taiwan’s container freight line Evergreen Marine, was ordered to pay £10,000, plus costs and a victim surcharge totalling over £7,300, after pleading guilty to a breach of oil pollution legislation when 700 litres of heavy fuel oil was lost overboard en route from Greece to the Netherlands, on January 24, 2013. The incident occurred when the Chief Engineer, having not pre-heated the heavy fuel oil, decided to carry out an internal transfer of the oil using two pumps. By pumping cold heavy fuel oil with two pumps, the ship’s staff had over-pressurised the tank receiving the fuel, which then forced it out through an air pipe.

A precautionary alarm sounded when the tank reached 336 tonnes (69% full), but the process continued for another hour and the transfer was only stopped when the fuel level reached 417 tonnes (85% full). Shortly afterwards, the ship’s bosun was doing his rounds when he noticed the heavy fuel oil spilling onto the deck through an air pipe. The alarm was raised and a 9 hour clean-up operation on board began. Unfortunately, some of the oil spilt overboard about 83 miles off Kalamata, Greece.

The crew of the Ever Sigma waited for about 27 hours before reporting the incident to the Italian authorities, an action that was deemed unacceptable. The ship was then advised by the Italian Coastguard to report the incident to Greece and on arrival in Rotterdam, the vessel was inspected by Dutch officials who conducted their own investigation and ultimately reported its findings to the UK, it being the guilty ships flag state.

In the US, Germany’s Herm. Dauelsberg, a company with a history stretching back well over 150 years, has pleaded guilty to a felony count of failing to maintain accurate records relating to the overboard disposal of fuel oil and to a felony count of failing to report a hazardous condition to the United States Coast Guard involving the Marshall Islands flagged 66,478 dwt M/V Bellavia. The company was fined the statutory maximum penalty of $1 million and was ordered to make an additional community service payment of $250,000 to the Channel Islands Natural Resources Protection Fund which will be used to fund environmental projects, enforcement efforts, and initiatives designed for the enforcement of environmental and public safety regulations.

This case was initiated after four members of the M/V Bellavia crew provided significant information to the US Coast Guard, including pictures and videos of discharges from a fuel tank into the ocean. Using a federal law that allows a federal judge to award up to half of any criminal fine to whistle-blowers who provide information concerning certain environmental crimes aboard vessels, Judge Wu ordered that the four crewmembers receive a total of $500,000 from the fine amount.

In 2011, the Bellavia sustained cracks in her hull while transiting through the Panama Canal. On an unknown number of occasions over the past three years, the hull cracks opened to such an extent that seawater could enter one of the ship’s fuel tanks. As a result of the damage, bunker fuel could have been released from the fuel tank into the sea. Herm. Dauelsberg admitted that the Bellavia hit the side of the Panama Canal again last September and sustained a crack that passed through the ship’s hull into a fuel tank.

The company also admitted that, after sustaining the crack, the ship’s crew used one of the ship’s pumps to discharge nearly 120,000 gallons of oil-contaminated seawater from the ship’s fuel tank directly into the ocean. That discharge was not done using the ship’s oil-water separator, which is supposed by law to be used to filter oil out of water that is pumped overboard. The ship’s crew then failed to properly record the discharge in the ship’s records and did not disclose it to the Coast Guard, both of which are required by federal law, when the ship arrived in the Port of Long Beach in October 2013. In addition, the company admitted that it failed to notify the Coast Guard about the hazardous condition aboard the Bellavia, namely, the crack that passed through the ship’s hull into the fuel tank.