Despite several successful cases brought by the United States against vessel operators and crew, oily bilge water continues to be illegally dumped at sea. In most cases, the crimes also involve a coverup.
New Trade Ship Management, a vessel operating company, and Chief Engineer Dennis Plasabas pleaded guilty this week in San Diego, California, for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge water from the bulk carrier M/V Longshore.
New Trade and Plasabas admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Longshore directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. The defendants also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law.
Specifically, on two separate occasions between October and December 2021, Chief Engineer Plasabas, ordered lower-ranking crew members to use a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass pollution prevention equipment by transferring oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank to the vessel’s sewage tank, from where it was discharged directly into the ocean. Plasabas then failed to record these improper transfers and overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.
Additionally, in order to create a false and misleading electronic record as if the pollution prevention equipment had been properly used, Plasabas directed lower-ranking crew members to pump clean sea water into the vessel’s bilge holding tank in the same quantity as the amount of oily bilge water that he had ordered transferred to the sewage tank.
Plasabas then processed the clean sea water through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment as if it was oily bilge water in order to make it appear that the pollution prevention equipment was being properly used, when in fact it was not. The electronic records indicate that approximately 9,600 gallons of clean sea water were run through the pollution prevention equipment.
“This case demonstrates our commitment to investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes occurring at sea, no matter how wrongdoers may try to cover them up,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure polluters are held fully accountable.”
New Trade and Plasabas each pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain the Longshore’s oil record book. Under the terms of the plea agreement and subject to court approval, New Trade will pay a total fine of $1,100,000 and serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan.
“We are committed to protecting our environment from people who cause immeasurable harm with short cuts,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “This was a very calculated plan to violate the rules, and today the offenders are being held to account.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and the U.S. Coast Guard for their excellent work on this case.
Sentencing for the defendants is currently set for Nov. 18.
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