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The owner and operator of a New Bedford, Massachusetts-based fishing vessel fleet have been fined $1 million after pleading guilty to discharging oily bilge water from the vessels’ engine rooms.
Sea Harvest, the operator of the fishing vessels Enterprise and Pacific Capes, along with Fishing Vessel Enterprises, the vessels’ owner, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act on Monday. In addition to the $1 million criminal fine, the companies will serve a five-year term of probation and implement “a robust environmental compliance plan” for their fleet of 36 commercial fishing vessels.
According documents presented in court, the defendants provided insufficient supervision over their owned and operated fishing vessels that allowed for the discharge of oily bilge waste on multiple occasions from at least early 2017 until late 2018.
Count one of the indictment alleged that, on September 20, 2017, the New Bedford Massachusetts Police Port Security Unit traced an oil sheen in the Acushnet River to the F/V Enterprise, which was owned and operated by the defendants. When questioned about the sheen, the vessel’s manager confirmed that he had illegally pumped oily bilge water from the Enterprise’s engine room bilge overboard into the Acushnet River.
In a second incident that formed the basis of count two, on July 3, 2018, the Captain of the F/V Pacific Capes attempted to discharge water from a fish hold into New Bedford Harbor in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. In doing so, the Captain negligently failed to ensure that the valve alignment on the vessel’s bilge manifold was in the proper configuration to prevent the bilge pump from pumping oily bilge water overboard. Oil contamination was discovered alongside the Pacific Capes, as well as approximately 1,000 yards north of the vessel along the beach, according to prosecutors.
Previously, the Enterprise had been several enforcement actions related to their improper management of oily bilge waste on the vessel. In one instance taking place in November 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a Letter of Warning to the vessel for pumping oily bilge waste into the Acushnet River. The following January, the Coast Guard issued a Captain of the Port Order requiring the vessel to return to port and discharge oily bilge water to a shore side facility. Later in 2017, representatives of the defendant’s were a no-show at a community outreach meeting aimed at informing the informing the commercial fishing community about the problem of discharging oily bilge water into New Bedford Harbor. Less than a month later, the Enterprise made the illegal discharge that formed the basis of count one.
“The laws that govern the discharge of oily bilge waste from vessels have been on the books for decades,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s plea should send the message that we will no longer tolerate the routine discharge of oily bilge waste into New Bedford Harbor and its surrounding waters. Vessel owners and operators can either voluntarily comply with laws that protect the nation’s waters or face criminal prosecution.”
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