Bulk Carrier Alleged to Pump Oily Waste Overboard, Goes Unpunished

A bulk carrier that allegedly dumped oily bilge water in the waters off Vancouver Island has gone unpunished, despite crew reports of the illegal act. The M/V "Opportunity" was reported, pursuant to a controversial new pollution law intended to make it easier to prosecute those who pollute Canadian waters.

The one year old Bill C-15 allows for criminal prosecution of both seafarers on vessels that pollute, as well as of the companies that own the ships. Then Environment Minister Stephane Dion introduced the bill in direct response to illegal bilge pumping.

A Sri Lankan third engineer aboard the Opportunity approached Peter Lahay, a Vancouver inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation in September of last year. He told the inspector that he'd been ordered on three occasions to pump sludge directly overboard rather than into the ship's oily-water separator. One of these instances occurred on what he described as the approach to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The engineer asked that he avoid prosecution in exchange for testimony and details of the altered pipe configuration used to bypass the separator. Because the seaman could not secure adequate assurances of favorable action on his behalf from the courts, he then refused to repeat his allegations, and the ship sailed for China. The lack of specific evidence in turn prevented further action by local authorities.

Officials from Cyprus, where the ship was registered, launched an investigation when the vessel arrived in Guangzhao. They found the vessel's bilge was not properly connected and also talked to an officer who confirmed the pumping. Although the vessel has since returned at least once to Prince Rupert, no charges were ever brought against the ship or crew in Canada. A large oil spill off the southeast coast of Newfoundland is under investigation this week and is heightening attention to the case.