Singapore-based shipping company Odfjell Asia has pleaded guilty to federal pollution charges and agreed pay a $1.2 million fine in relation to yet another “magic pipe” case onboard one of their ships.
A statement from the U.S. Justice Department said that Odjfell and one of its senior crewmembers pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). The crewmember faces up to 6 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Odjfell operated the M/T Bow Lind, a 577-foot, 26,327 gross ton petroleum/chemical tanker, which in November 2012 was discovered by U.S. Coast Guard inspectors to have discharged oily bilge water directly into the sea by way of a so-called “magic pipe”.
The inspection and subsequent criminal investigation revealed that at three times between October 2011 and October 2012, while in international waters, the Bow Lind senior engineer, Ramil Leuterio, directed other crewmembers to bypass pollution prevention equipment that ensures 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 crewmembers, Leuterio directed them to use a complex system to transfer the bilge water from the bilge holding tank to the sewage tank, where it was then dumped directly into the sea. Once the bilge holding tank was emptied, Leuterio then 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.
Under the terms of a binding plea agreement, if accepted by the court, Odfell will be placed on probation for a period of three years and pay a criminal penalty totaling $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.
Meanwhile, Leuterio, who is a citizen of the Philippines, pleaded guilty to one count of violating APPS 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.
“Pollution of our waters will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Daly. “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.”
“The defendants violated environmental laws that protect our oceans, the world’s fisheries and marine life, from harmful pollution,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “[Monday’s] 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.”