CONOCOPHILLIPS Ship Cleared by Federal Prosecutors

Federal prosecutors in Seattle will not press criminal charges against ConocoPhillips, whose tanker “POLAR TEXAS” was at the center of investigations into the spill of crude oil into Dalco Passage, near the Maury Islands in October of 2004. The vessel was reportedly the only tanker near the area of the spill on that evening and analysis of the spilled substance spilled was later determined by authorities to be crude oil. Since then, the 91,000 DWT ton POLAR TEXAS, a conventional 1973-built tanker, has been scrapped. The decision by U.S. Attorney John McKay's office not to file charges may not end the matter for ConocoPhillips, which hasn't acknowledged guilt. No reason was given for the decision not to prosecute, although ongoing negotiations between the company and environmental officials might involve civil penalties. The Washington state Ecology Department had been awaiting the outcome of the criminal investigation before launching their own effort to recoup damages from the company for environmental damages. There is no time limit on seeking environmental damages but any attempt by the Ecology Department to penalize the company with a fine would need to be done by the end of next month. In a written statement, the Washington agency said, "We are aggressively pursuing every option available to make sure justice is done as a result of the Dalco Passage spill. In general, those who spill oil into state waters face obligations to repay cleanup costs, to provide compensation for natural resource damages associated with the spill, and to pay civil penalties.” The statement went on to say, "Washington State has already been compensated for its cleanup costs in the Dalco spill. Ecology believes it has until the end of October to issue a civil penalty in this matter; the deadline is essentially two years from the time that the agency determines who is responsible for a spill. We are actively pursuing resolution of the remaining obligations - the civil penalty and natural resource damage assessment - with the October deadline firmly in mind." Curt Hart of the Washington state Ecology Department told MarEx via telephone on Wednesday, “The spill involves at least 1,000 gallons of crude oil. We will levy a civil penalty.” Hart also noted that the State of Washington has been reimbursed nearly $500,000 by the federal government, which has its own process for collecting from parties responsible for oil spills. ConocoPhillips and POLAR TEXAS crewmembers have consistently maintained that they did nothing wrong. They have previously reported that a ballasting operation on the night of the spill went well, in a routine fashion. The vessel had previously discharged crude oil in Tacoma before departing for sea.