Engineer Pleads Guilty to Felonies for Dumping Oil and Lying to USCG
The chief engineer of a large commercial bulk carrier pleaded guilty this week in U.S. federal court to two felony counts of deliberately discharging oily water near New Orleans and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard during the investigation into the oil spill. Another crewmember aboard the vessel reported the incident via social media to the Coast Guard and was later subjected to retaliatory actions by the chief engineer.
“The intentional pollution of U.S. waters and the deliberate effort to cover up the crime are extremely serious criminal offenses that will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Prosecutions such as this one should send a clear message to those that would violate the law and endanger our precious natural resources.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana said the incident took place on March 13-14, 2021 when an unnamed bulk carrier registered in the Marshall Islands was anchored near the South West Passage off the Louisiana coast. They declined to name the vessel saying the investigation is continuing but reported that the chief engineer, a Russian citizen named Kirill Kompaniets pleaded guilty on May 18.
According to papers filed in Court, repair operations were underway to correct a problem with the discharge of clean ballast water when a valve burst and the engine room flooded. After the leak had been controlled, Kompaniets and another engineer they charged deliberately dumped the oil-contaminated water in the bilges overboard resulting in the release of approximately 10,000 gallons of oil-contaminated bilge off the coast of New Orleans. The ship’s required pollution prevention equipment – an oily-water separator and oil content monitor – were not used, and the discharge was not recorded in the required Oil Record Book.
The chief engine was also charged with obstruction of justice based on various efforts to conceal the illegal discharge. The Coast Guard said the illegal activity was first reported by another engineer.
As part of the guilty plea, Kompaniets admitted to making false statements to the Coast Guard as well as destroying evidence. He reportedly removed printouts from the computer alarm sought by the Coast Guard from the time of the illegal discharge and made false statements in the Oil Record Book that failed to disclose the illegal discharge.
After the incident occurred, the chief engineer further held meetings with subordinate crewmembers and directed them to make false statements to the Coast Guard as well as directing others in the engine room to delete all evidence from their cell phones in anticipation of the Coast Guard inspection.
After he learned of the whistleblower contacting USCG, the chief engineer also admitted to preparing a retaliatory document accusing the whistleblower of poor performance as part of an effort to discredit him.
“The defendant in this case deliberately disregarded procedures designed to protect the environment from contaminants and then attempted to hide his actions,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans. “Today’s announcement emphasizes that our office along with our federal partners are committed to holding accountable all parties whose criminality jeopardizes our environment and places the public and the ecosystem at risk.”
The investigation is ongoing, but neither the shipping company nor the vessel have been named in the case. Kompaniets is scheduled to be sentenced on September 1.