Two shipping companies pay $1.9m for covering up vessel pollution
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas, announced the plea agreement.
The agreement includes a $1.9 million dollar penalty and requires marine and coastal restoration efforts at three National Wildlife Refuges located on the Gulf of Mexico in East Texas, where the offending vessel transited and made port stops.
Defendants Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management are the owner and operator of the 57,920 gross ton, 809-foot long, ocean-going, oil tank ship called the M/T ETC MENA.
Large ships like the M/T ETC MENA generate oil-contaminated bilge waste when water mixes in the bottom or bilges of the ship with oil that has leaked from the ship’s engines and other areas.
This waste must be processed to separate the water from the oil and other wastes by using pollution prevention equipment, including an Oily Water Separator (OWS), before being discharged into the sea.
These large ships also generate garbage, including ash from the incinerators, steel, and other non-organic wastes, which are collected in plastic bags and stored onboard until they can be disposed of properly at shore-side facilities.
APPS requires that the disposal of the ship’s bilge waste and garbage be fully recorded in the ship’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book.
The investigation began on April 26, 2016, when the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur, Texas, received information from a crew member on the M/T ETC MENA that the ship had illegally dumped bilge waste overboard into the ocean.
The crewmember provided a written statement, photographs, and video of the alleged conduct.
During the inspection of the ship that same day, the Coast Guard found a pump covered in oil submerged in the ship’s bilge primary tank that looked similar to the pump that the crew member said was used to pump the bilge waste overboard.
In pleading guilty, the companies admitted that its crew members bypassed the ships OWS and discharged bilge water into the ocean in March 2016 without it first passing through this pollution prevention equipment.
The government’s investigation also revealed that crew members were instructed to throw plastic garbage bags filled with metal and incinerator ash into the sea in March 2016.
The discharge of bilge water without using the OWS and of plastic garbage into the ocean was not entered into the ship’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book in violation of APPS.
The companies also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for presenting these false documents to the Coast Guard during the inspection in Port Arthur, Texas.
The companies will be placed on a four-year term of probation that includes a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to ensure, among other things, that all of ships operated by Thome Ship Management that come to the United States fully comply with all applicable marine environmental protection requirements established by national and international laws.
The compliance plan will be implemented by an independent auditing company and supervised by a court-appointed monitor. ■