Monday, September 5, 2016

Yet Another 'Magic Pipe' Incident as Greek Cargo Vessel Dumps Tonnes of Waste in US Waters

Stiff Sentences Expected for Polluters After Guilty Verdict
Shipping News Feature
US – In yet another ‘Magic Pipe’ case whereby a ship dumps toxic matter directly into the sea in breach of all regulations, a federal jury in Greenville, North Carolina, has found Oceanic Illsabe Limited, Oceanfleet Shipping Limited and two of their employees, guilty of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), obstruction of justice, false statements, witness tampering and conspiracy. The case revolves around the 29,513 DWT cargo vessel, the Ocean Hope, owned by Oceanic Illsabe and managed by Oceanfleet Shipping, which was responsible for dumping tonnes of oily waste into the Pacific Ocean last year.

In January it was a Turkish operator which was hit with a $1 million fine and this time both companies operate out of Greece. Also convicted at trial were two senior Engineering Officers who worked aboard the vessel, Rustico Ignacio and Cassius Samson. The jury convicted on each of the nine counts in the indictment.

The operation of marine vessels, like the Ocean Hope, generates large quantities of oil sludge and oil-contaminated waste water. International and US law require that these vessels use pollution prevention equipment, known as an oil-water separator, to preclude the discharge of these materials. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the US Coast Guard (USCG). The evidence presented to the jury showed that in June 2015, the vessel discharged around ten tonnes of sludge into the ocean. The vessel was also regularly pumping contaminated water directly overboard. None of these discharges were disclosed as required. Rear Admiral Meredith Austin, Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, said:

“While the vast majority of vessel owners, operators, and crews who do business in the United States follow our environmental laws, every year, a few unscrupulous commercial mariners obstruct justice in an attempt to hide from the Coast Guard the intentional discharge of large quantities of pollutants into the oceans. Coast Guard Marine Inspectors and the Coast Guard Investigative Service, in concert with the Department of Justice, will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who do this.”

The evidence presented during the nine-day trial demonstrated that the companies were aware that the ship had not offloaded any oil sludge from the vessel since September 2014 and that the ship rarely used its oil-water separator. Instead, the vessel’s Second Engineer, Samson, ordered crewmembers to connect what is known in the industry as a ‘magic pipe’ to bypass the vessel’s oil-water separator and pump oil sludge overboard. In addition, crewmembers were ordered to pump oily water from the vessel’s bilges directly into the ocean up to several times per week. The dumping occurred with the knowledge and approval of the ship’s Chief Engineer, Ignacio. Finally, the engineers used a tank designated for oily wastes to store diesel fuel for sale on the black market.

Upon arriving at the Port of Wilmington in North Carolina, Oceanic, Oceanfleet, Ignacio and Samson attempted to hide these discharges by presenting a false and fictitious oil record book to US Coast Guard inspectors. When inspectors uncovered evidence of dumping, the defendants ordered lower-level crewmembers to lie to Coast Guard personnel. Samson also made several false statements to a Coast Guard inspector regarding the bypass of the oil-water separator.

At the conclusion of trial, defendants Oceanic and Oceanfleet were convicted of one count of conspiracy, one count of violating APPS, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of false statements and four counts of witness tampering. Ignacio was convicted of one count of conspiracy, one count of violating APPS, one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of witness tampering. Samson was convicted of one count of conspiracy, one count of violating APPS, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of false statements and three counts of witness tampering. The companies could be fined up to $500,000 per count, in addition to other possible penalties. Ignacio and Samson face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice charges.