Two German shipping companies have pleaded guilty to environmental crimes related to the use of a so-called “magic pipe” to bypass one of its ship’s pollution prevention equipment.
The U.S. Justice Department reports that Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG and Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG MS “Extum,” who owned and operated the cargo ship MV BBC Magellan, pleaded guilty this week to failure to maintain an accurate oil record book in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ship. The companies were also found to have tampered with witnesses by persuading them to provide false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard concerning a bypass hose on the vessel that was being used to illegally discharge oil into the sea.
The two companies were sentenced to pay a total of $1.25 million in fines and a $250,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund environmental projects in Gulf of Mexico. The BBC Magellan has also been banned from doing business in the United States for the next five years.
According to the Justice Department, in March 2015, during an inspection at the Port of Pensacola, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered an improperly attached rubber hose. Officials later determined that the crew of the ship, acting on behalf of the vessel’s owner, had installed and illegally used the rubber hose, commonly known as a “magic pipe”, to remove oily wastes from the vessel’s holding tanks and discharged them directly into the ocean on voyages between January and March 2015. The crew also failed to make the required entries in the vessel’s oil record book, and when questioned about the hose’s purpose and how oily wastes were discharged from the ship, the chief engineer instructed other crew members to lie to the Coast Guard, the Justice Dept. said.
“Shipping companies that transport commerce across open seas must respect the international laws and obligations of their trade, which exist to prevent the spoiling of oceans and marine habitat,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden, Assistant Attorney for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division. “This egregious behavior by shipping companies, which included intentional deception and witness tampering, will not be tolerated. We will continue to prosecute companies and their officers for these crimes.”
The operation of a marine vessel, such as the MV BBC Magellan, generates large quantities of waste oil and oil-contaminated wastewater. International and U.S. law requires that these vessels use pollution prevention equipment to prevent the release of oily waste water and, should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book.
The incident is the latest involving foreign shipping companies and engineers being convicted in the U.S. of environmental crimes related to the use magic pipes and other illegal discharges.
“Future generations deserve to enjoy clean and safe coastal waters, and we will continue to prosecute environmental crimes to prevent pollution of our natural resources,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Canova. “Our federal environmental laws rightfully require companies to record their oil waste disposal to keep them accountable and to protect our oceans and marine life.”
“When a company knowingly fails to comply with our nation’s environmental laws, it can have a devastating effect on both public health and wildlife,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Andy Castro of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criminal enforcement program in Florida. “The defendants in this case falsified entries in their vessel’s log books to hide the true nature of its open water discharges. Today’s court action should signal to would-be violators that the American people will not allow the flagrant violation of U.S. laws.”