Two Vessel Engineers Convicted of Environmental and Obstruction Crimes
A federal jury in Charleston, South Carolina convicted two chief engineers of the vessel T/V Green Sky of falsifying documents in order to conceal illegal discharges of oily bilge waste and obstruction charges.
Herbert Julian, who served as chief engineer of the vessel from August 3 to September 4, 2015, was convicted of two felony counts under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and for obstruction of justice. Panagiotis Koutoukakis, chief engineer from February 1 to August 3, 2015, was convicted of two felony counts, one for APPS and another for falsifying records.
The second engineer Nikolaos Bounovas was acquitted of all charges against him.
Court documents, which were unsealed after the verdicts were rendered, revealed that Aegean Shipping Management, S.A., a foreign company with operations in Greece and Green Sky’s operator, previously pleaded guilty to a violation of the APPS and obstruction of justice.
“With Charleston serving as one of the largest ports on the eastern seaboard, working vessel pollution cases with the Environmental Crimes Section is an important focus for our office,” said US Attorney Beth Drake, District of South Carolina. “Through criminal charges, we can deter those who would dump oily wastes into the world’s oceans and use false documents to cover it up.”
The Green Sky is a large, oceangoing chemical tanker flagged in Liberia. The vessel first set sail in July 2014.
The operation of marine vessels, like the T/V Green Sky, generates large quantities of oil-contaminated waste water. This particular vessel had unusual internal leaks that produced greater quantities of oily waste than a normal ship of its age and construction. Oily bilge waste must be removed from the vessel to prevent it from filling up the bottom of the engine room and cause damage to equipment. However, the law does not permit an oceangoing vessel to discharge these oily wastes directly into the sea.
The evidence presented to the jury showed that the Green Sky was regularly pumping contaminated and oily water directly overboard. None of these discharges were disclosed as required. The oil record book of the Green Sky was falsified to cover-up illegal overboard discharges of oily wastes from February to August 2015. Methods of falsification included omitting illegal bypass operations, claiming that the oil water separator was used when it had not been, and a series of false entries regarding the levels of the bilge holding tank, which were designed to further the cover-up. While most of these discharges occurred in international waters, evidence at trial revealed that at least two of these discharges were within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States during the ship’s voyage from Pascagoula, Mississippi, to Houston, Texas in May 2015.
The evidence presented during the fifteen-day trial demonstrated that the chief engineers covered up illegal overboard discharges that took place through two systems of “magic” hoses and a separate “magic” valve system designed to bypass the ship’s oil water separator. Koutoukakis and Julian falsified the oil record book to hide their illegal discharges. The vessel arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on August 26, 2015, when the false record was presented to the US Coast Guard during an inspection of the vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard was tipped off by three whistleblowers who came forward to report the crimes and ask for protection from U.S. authorities.
Prior to the initiation of the trial, on November 22, 2016, the Green Sky’s operator, Aegean Shipping Management, S.A. pleaded guilty to one APPS count for the illegal discharges and one obstruction count based on misrepresentations made by the vessel’s captain to the US Coast Guard during the August 2015 boarding. The unsealed documents revealed that the operating company agreed to pay a financial penalty of $2 million, which includes a criminal fine and a smaller community service component directed toward the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The company will also be sentenced to probation and an environmental compliance plan.
The previously convicted Captain, Genaro Anciano, testified at the trial. His sentencing has yet to be scheduled.