Ship’s Owner and Operator Sentenced for Violating Pollution Laws
The companies that own and operate a Greek shipping vessel were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week to a $1.3 million fine for the dumping of oily waste at sea. The ship operator, Angelakos (Hellas) S.A., and the ship owner, Gallia Graeca Shipping Ltd., were found guilty in June 2016 of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, falsification of records in a federal investigation, and engaging in a scheme to defraud the United States.
In imposing the monetary penalty, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he hoped the sanctions “would resonate and cause other companies to pause when they think about creating a corporate culture that encourages deception.”
“These companies promoted a culture of lies and lawlessness that left a trail of pollution in the Pacific Ocean,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “Knowing that the Coast Guard was going to do an inspection of their shipping vessel, corporate managers allowed the chief engineer to present falsified documents. The significant fines imposed in this case send a clear message that those who spoil our environment by putting their business interests ahead of our laws will be held responsible.”
According to records filed in the case and testimony at trial, a multipurpose vessel named the Gallia Graeca sailed from China to Seattle in October 2015. During the voyage, a pollution-control device known as an oil water separator was inoperable. On October 16, 26, and 27, the defendants discharged 5,000 gallons of oily bilge water overboard. The defendants concealed these incidents from the Coast Guard by making false statements to inspectors, and making false statements and omissions in the ship’s oil record book. When Coast Guard inspectors asked the engineers to operate the oil water separator during the inspection, the engineers did so in such a way that the equipment appeared to be working properly even though it was not. Records indicated the oil water separator had not been serviced for months prior to the voyage from China.
The defendants presented the Coast Guard with an official oil record book stating that bilge water had not been discharged during the voyage to Seattle. However, the Coast Guard investigation discovered evidence that oily water had been discharged into the sea three times on its voyage from China.
Calling it “a voyage of deception and pollution,” prosecutors argued that the engineers tried to hide the pollution from the Coast Guard to avoid having the ship detained in Seattle. Keeping the ship on schedule was a benefit to the owners and operators who had a contract to move $25 million in goods out of Seattle. Shipping company executives had been in contact with the engineers about how they should present the log book for the Coast Guard inspection.
The companies were placed on five years of probation and required to have environmental compliance plans in place which will ensure they are abiding by anti-pollution policies and regulations.
In addition to the $1.3 million fine, Judge Coughenour ordered a $200,000 community service payment to be shared between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks Foundation. The two engineers who operated the ship’s equipment and falsified the log books were sentenced to short prison terms before returning to Greece.
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