Last week the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in New Jersey and Delaware, the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Coast Guard announced that two shipping firms based in Germany and Cyprus pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice charges and violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships related to the deliberate concealment of vessel pollution from four ships that visited U.S. ports in New Jersey, Delaware and Northern California.
The plea agreement includes a $10.4 million penalty, $2.6 million of which will be used address environmental damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Columbia Shipmanagement (Deutschland) GmbH (CSM-D), a German corporation, and Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd. (CSM-CY), a Cypriot compan will be placed on probation time for four year, during which the companies will be subject to the terms of an environmental compliance program that requires outside audits by an independent company and oversight by a court appointed monitor. The shipping firms admitted that four of their ships (three oil tankers and one container ship) had intentionally bypassed required pollution prevention equipment and falsified the oil record book, a required log regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. The case is the largest vessel pollution settlement in either New Jersey or Delaware. The guilty pleas were entered before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton in Newark federal court. Sentencing is set for June 24, 2013.
The investigation into the M/T King Emerald was launched on May 7, 2012, after several crew members provided cell phone photos and other evidence to Coast Guard officers conducting a routine inspection. The King Emerald was engaged in various types of illegal discharges of bilge waste dating back to at least 2010. In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that illegal discharges of both sludge and oily bilge waste were discharged at night off the coast of Central America, including a discharge within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Costa Rica where a national park is located. The ship’s second engineer pleaded guilty previously and will be sentenced in Newark on April 3, 2013.
The Delaware investigation began in October 2012, after several crew members of the M/T Nordic Passat provided the Coast Guard with a thumb drive containing photographs and video showing how illegal discharges had been sent overboard through the ship’s sewage system. They also alleged that sludge had been put into the ship’s cargo tanks and that logs showing sludge had been incinerated onboard had been falsified. The charges involving the M/V Cape Maas stem from a whistleblower report to the Coast Guard when the ship visited the port in San Francisco. He provided a video showing the operation of the oily water separator pumping overboard without the use of the oil content monitor to detect and prevent oil from being illegally discharged.
This prosecution was made possible through the combined efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard Districts 1, 5 and 11, Coast Guard Sectors New York, Delaware Bay, and San Francisco, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, and the Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Analysis.
More details about this case can be found at The United States Attorney’s Office Press Release