German Shipping Companies Plead Guilty in ‘Magic Pipe’ Pollution Case

Nils B. Photo: MarineTraffic.com/
Nils B. Photo: MarineTraffic.com/dave cuza

Two German shipping companies are the latest to plead guilty in U.S. federal court to environmental crimes related to the use of a so-called ‘magic pipe’ aboard one of their vessels.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California said Tuesday the vessel owner and operator, two units of Germany’s W. Bockstiegel Reederei GmbH, pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain an oil record book for their owned and operated vessel MV Nils B. In doing so, the companies also failed to disclose that oil contaminated water had been discharged into the ocean without the use of pollution prevention equipment.

According to a plea agreement, on August 5, 2014, U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the MV Nils B after its entry into the Port of San Diego, California. Once onboard, the Coast Guard discovered that the crew had failed to keep an oil record book and that modifications had been made to piping coming from the oil water separator. Oil was also discovered in discharge piping that should not have been present.

The defendants acknowledged that Coast Guard examiners took oil samples from the oil water separator’s overboard discharge valve and from the vessel’s sludge tank, later proving the samples from the two locations matched.

The Coast Guard also discovered a black hose near the oil water separator, known in the shipping industry as a “magic pipe” or “magic hose,” that contained slightly weathered light fuel oil mixed with lubricating oil.

The defendants, in pleading guilty, admitted that the oil record book on board the vessel did not disclose any discharges of sludge since the vessel dry docked in June 2014.

The company and the United States agreed to recommend that the court impose a total criminal penalty of $750,000.00, including a $250,000.00 community service payment. Sentencing for this case has been set for November 3.