Russian Captain Acquitted of MARPOL Violations in U.S.

Ridgebury Alexandra Z tanker pollution
M/T Ridgebury Alexandra Z. Photo: MarineTraffic.com / Roybridge

A jury in the Western District of Louisiana has acquitted the Russian Master of an oil tanker on all charges related to illegal discharges from the vessel.

After spending more than 19 months detained in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Captain Vjaceslavs Birzakovs, Master of the oil tanker RIDGEBURY ALEXANDRA Z, will now be able to return to Russia following his complete acquittal by a jury on May 23, 2019, Birzakovs’ attorney’s announced this week.

The Captain was accused of six criminal counts of federal pollution and obstruction of justice related to a Coast Guard investigation of the RIDGEBURY ALEXANDRA Z for alleged MARPOL violations.

The vessel’s operator, Interorient Marine Services Limited, was previously found guilty for failing to accurately maintain the Ridgebury Alexandra Z’s Oil Record Book. The company was sentenced in February to pay a $2 million fine and serve 4 years of probation. During trial, the company admitted that oil cargo residues and oily bilge water were illegally dumped from the tanker directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. The company also admitted that false entries were made in the vessel’s Oil Record Book to conceal the illegal dumping.

Captain Birzakovs was represented by Jones Walker attorneys Michael W. Magner and T.C. Wicker, IV, who helped secure the victory following a four day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey in the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division.

The six-count indictment was handed down by a Grand Jury on November 29, 2018, alleging that Birzakovs directed circumvention of the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment, falsified records, obstructed justice, made false statements, and conspired with other crewmembers to falsify the vessel’s Oil Record Book and to obstruct the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement of the law.

Captain Birzakovs, as well as 10 members of the crew and officers of the vessel, had been detained in the South Louisiana area for 19 months in connection with the case. The Captain maintained his innocence at all times and requested a speedy trial.

Following just two hours of deliberations, a jury found Captain Birzakovs not guilty on all six charges.

“I cooperated fully with the Coast Guard’s investigation and am very pleased but not at all surprised by the jury’s verdict,” Captain Birzakovs said. “I have always maintained my innocence and am grateful for the fair trial I received from the jury and Judge Zainey. I also want to thank my attorneys, Mike Magner and T.C. Wicker, of Jones Walker for their support and representation of me at trial,” he added.

“As a result of the fair treatment Captain Birzakovs received in the courts, he is now a believer in the American jury system,” said Magner. “We are glad that he was vindicated and can now return home to his family and his career.”