Greek Bulker Operator, Chief Engineer Indicted on MARPOL Charges

US indictment bulker oil polution falsfying records
The indictment steams from a bulker at the Port of New Orleans in March 2021

Published Oct 1, 2021 2:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The chief engineer, owner and manager of the bulker Joanna were indicted by a Louisiana grand jury on September 30 on charges related to oil pollution, concealing deliberate pollution, and failing to report a hazardous condition. The four-count grand jury indictment on felony charges alleges that the engineer and the companies employing him tampered with required oil pollution prevention equipment and falsified the ship’s records to conceal their actions.

The U.S. Coast Guard discovered the violations during a routine port inspection of the 33,717 dwt bulker Joanna. The vessel, built in 2010 and registered in the Marshall Islands, is owned by Joanna Maritime Limited and managed by Empire Bulkers of Greece.

The bulker was at the Port of New Orleans between March 6 and 11, 2021. During the inspection on March 11, 2021, the Coast Guard discovered an active fuel oil leak in the ship’s purifier room that resulted from disabling the fuel oil heater pressure relief valves. The Coast Guard found that the ship’s Oily Water Separator had been bypassed by inserting a piece of metal into the Oil Content Meter so that it would only detect clean water instead of what was actually being discharged overboard.

During its subsequent investigation, the indictment said that the Coast Guard determined that the ship’s records were being falsified for a period ranging from at least October 25, 2020 through March 11, 2021. The 12-page indictment alleges that the vessel was falsely recording its oil discharges and that those records were presented to the U.S. Coast Guard impeding the actions of the inspectors. 

The chief engineer, Warlito Tan a citizen of the Philippines, the indictment alleges “did knowingly fail and cause the failure to maintain an accurate oil record book for the Joanna in which quantities of oil residue, oil mixtures and machinery space bilge water, and the discharge and disposal of these substances were fully and accurately recorded.” He is also indicted on charges of a coverup relating to the falsified records.

The defendants were also charged with violating the Ports and Waterways Safety Act by failing to immediately report a hazardous situation that affected the safety of the ship and threatened U.S. ports and waters.

The criminal prosecution is being handled in the Eastern District of Louisiana with the Environment and Natural Resources Division's Environmental Crimes Section, and assistance provided by District 8 of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Criminal Investigations Division.