Greek ship operator pleads guilty in Texas spill case

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June 9, 2011
Company Has Agreed to Pay $900,000 Monetary Penalty

(WASHINGTON) — A ship management company headquartered in Greece that operated a 29,414 – ton cargo ship that made calls in multiple ports in Texas pleaded guilty and was sentenced late yesterday in federal court in Corpus Christi for deliberately concealing pollution discharges from the ship directly into the sea and for failing to notify the U. S. Coast Guard of numerous safety hazards on board the vessel.

Noka Shipping Company Ltd., the operator of the M/V Florin, pleaded guilty to a violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to properly maintain an oil record book as required by federal and international law, as well as, a violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, for failing to report a hazardous condition on board to include excessive amounts of oil in the vessel’s machinery spaces and bilges, excessive oil leaks on the vessel’s main engine and generators, an authorized oil drainage system for the engine room and oil in the vessel’s fire suppression system.

The company was sentenced to pay a $750,000 criminal fine along with a $150,000 community service payment to the congressionally-established National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The money will be designated for use in the Flower Garden and Stetson Banks National Marine Sanctuary, headquartered in Galveston, Texas, to support the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources located in and adjacent to the sanctuary.

Noka was also sentenced to five years probation. As a condition of the probation, all ships owned or managed by Noka will be barred from entering U.S. ports and territorial waters for five years.

“Senior officers allowed hazardous conditions to prevail aboard the M/V Florin and maintained false records that concealed the deliberate discharge of oily waste into the ocean in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice. “Now Noka will not only pay a significant criminal penalty for breaking laws that help protect our oceans from pollution, but they also will lose the privilege and the profit of conducting commerce in U.S. ports for five years.”

“Pollution prevention acts were put in place to protect our natural resources now and for future generations,” said José Angel Moreno, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “It is more than disheartening to see companies knowingly and purposely dumping oil-contaminated waste into those resources; it violates the law. We take those violations seriously and shipping companies will be held accountable.”

“America’s waterways are America’s treasures and we are committed to protecting them,” said Rear Adm. Roy A. Nash, Eighth District Coast Guard commander. “When companies knowingly fail to adhere to marine anti-pollution laws and create hazardous conditions on their vessels, it affects each and every one of us. The Coast Guard will continue to aggressively enforce these laws and will not rest until all vessels comply with them. I am grateful for the hard work, dedication, and professionalism exhibited by Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.”

U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service Special Agent in Charge Damon Rodriguez, Gulf Region, added: “The collaborative efforts on this case by the Department of Justice, the United States Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Investigative Service should send a clear message to those who knowingly violate our nation’s environmental laws that such actions will not be tolerated.”

According to the joint factual statement, from at least June 15, 2010 until Sept. 27, 2010, senior engineering officers on board the M/V Florin acting on behalf of Noka used the vessel’s fixed piping system and fire main pump to bypass pollution prevention equipment to discharge oily bilge waste directly overboard into the sea.

Federal and international law requires that all ships comply with pollution regulations that include the proper disposal of oily water and sludge by passing the oily water through a separator aboard the vessel or burning the sludge in the ship’s incinerator. Federal law also requires ships to accurately record each disposal of oily water or sludge in an oil record book, and to have the record book available for the U.S. Coast Guard when the vessel is within the waters of the United States. The M/V Florin called on ports in Corpus Christi and Houston between June 15, 2010 and Sep. 27, 2010.

According to court documents, the engineers knowingly failed to make the required entries into the oil record book including the fact that oily waste had been discharged directly into the ocean using the fire pump and circumventing the internationally required pollution control equipment. The senior engineers also made false entries in the oil record book to conceal the fact that the pollution control equipment had not been used. The crewmembers then attempted to conceal the discharges on Sept. 27, 2010 during a Coast Guard boarding at the port in Corpus Christi, by providing the falsified oil record book to the boarding crew.

With regard to the failure to report the vessel’s safety issues the company knew that before coming to the United States that it was under a legal obligation to notify the Coast Guard of any hazardous condition. According to court documents the vessel was boarded by Coast Guard inspectors on June 15, 2010 in Houston, whereby numerous safety deficiencies were discovered and required to be corrected. However, these deficiencies were not corrected and Noka failed to report these conditions upon the vessel returning to the port of Corpus Christi on Sept. 27, 2010.

The investigation was conducted by the Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi, Texas and Coast Guard Investigative Service in Corpus Christi. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Corpus Christi and Trial Attorney David O’Connell from the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice
Photo: NOAA
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