Two international shipping companies have pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in Beaumont, Texas to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and obstruction of justice related to the covering up the illegal dumping of oil-contaminated bilge water and garbage from one of their ships visiting U.S. ports.
The two companies, Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, owner and operator of the 57,920 gross ton crude oil tanker MT ETC MENA, will pay a $1.9 million penalty as part of the plea agreement, announced Tuesday. The penalty includes marine and coastal restoration efforts at three National Wildlife Refuges located on the Gulf of Mexico in East Texas, where the tanker transited and made port stops.
The investigation into the illegal dumping began on April 26, 2016, when the U.S. Coast Guard in Port Arthur, Texas, received a tip from a crew member that the ship had illegally dumped bilge waste overboard into the ocean, providing a written statement, photographs and video of the alleged crimes. During an inspection of the ship that same day, the Coast Guard found a pump covered in oil submerged in the ship’s bilge primary tank matching the description provided by the crew member. The government’s investigation also revealed that crew members were instructed to throw plastic garbage bags filled with metal and incinerator ash into the sea in March 2016.
In pleading guilty, the companies admitted that its crew members bypassed the ship’s Oily Water Separator and discharged bilge water into the ocean in March 2016 without it first passing through the pollution prevention equipment as required by law. Further, the discharge of untreated bilge water and plastic garbage into the ocean was not entered into the ship’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book in violation of APPS.
The two companies also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for presenting these false documents to the Coast Guard during the inspection in Port Arthur, Texas.
“Intentional acts of pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas wetlands will not be tolerated, and violators such as defendants, Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, will be held responsible for their conduct,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas. “Our citizens depend on clean water for their recreation and their livelihood. This kind of irresponsible conduct threatens both.”
The companies will be placed on a four-year term of probation that includes a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to ensure, among other things, that all of ships operated by Thome Ship Management that come to the United States fully comply with all applicable marine environmental protection requirements established by national and international laws. The compliance plan will be implemented by an independent auditing company and supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
Thome Ship Management issued a statement saying it has cooperated fully with a U.S. Department of Justice throughout the investigation, adding that the investigation revealed no evidence that Thome’s shore personnel, the Owner’s shore personnel or the vessel’s Captain had any involvement with or knowledge of the improper conduct.
“The underlying incident, which occurred in international waters, contravenes long held environmental and anti-pollution policies laid down by Thome Ship Management. The Chief Engineer responsible for these actions no longer works for the company,” the statement said.
The MT ETC Mena is registered in Liberia.