The Greek owner and operator of a Panama-flagged oil products tanker, along with the vessel’s senior officers, have been convicted of air pollution crimes in the United States for using bunker fuel that exceeded the maximum allowable sulfur limit in the U.S. Caribbean Emission Control Area.
The tanker, the MT Ocean Princess, was owned by Lily Shipping and operated by Ionian Shipping & Trading. Both have been convicted and sentenced to pay a $1.5 million each for various pollution, recordkeeping, and obstruction of justice crimes related to the operation of the tanker.
The tanker’s Master, Stamatios Alekidis, along with Chief Officer, Rey Espulgar, and Chief Engineer, Athanasios Pittas have also been convicted for their roles in the crimes.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, while engaged in transporting petroleum products throughout the Caribbean between January 3, 2017, and July 10, 2018, the MT Ocean Princess entered into, and operated within, the U.S. Caribbean ECA using fuel that contained a sulfur content that exceeded the 0.10% sulfur on twenty-six separate occasions.
“The fuel was petroleum cargo that had been transferred to the fuel tanks as authorized by the vessel’s commercial manager,” the Justice Dept. said in a press release. “Once notification was received from Master STAMATIOS ALEKIDIS, Chief Officer REY ESPULGAR coordinated with Chief Engineer ATHANASIOS PITTAS to make the transfers from the cargo tanks to the bunker tanks. REY ESPULGAR then falsified the Oil Record Book, Part II, by failing to record that cargo had been transferred to the bunker tanks. ATHANASIOS PITTAS also falsified the Oil Record Book, Part I, by falsely recording that the fuel in the bunker tank originated from a shore-side company in St. Martin, F.W.I. Additionally, ATHANASIOS PITTAS created fictitious Bunker Delivery Notes that claimed the fuel in the bunkers came from the same shore-side company in St. Martin, F.W.I. Between March 2, 2016, and February 6, 2018, nineteen separate fictitious Bunker Delivery Notes were created on and kept aboard the vessel.”
U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the MT Ocean Princess on July 10, 2018, and discovered that the vessel was using fuel with an excessive sulfur content. During the inspection, Chief Officer Rey Espulgar instructed some of the lower-ranking crew members to lie to the inspectors about where the fuel came from.
In addition to the criminal fine, Ionian Shipping and Lily Shipping will each be placed on four years probation and ordered to implement an environmental compliance plan.
The officers were sentenced to three years probation during which they cannot return to the United States on a ship. Espulgar was also fined $3,000.00.