EPA Settles Clean Water Act Violations with Swire and MMS

EPA Clean Water violations
One of Swire Shipping's containerships alongside. Three of the company's vessels were cited for violations (Swire Shipping file photo)

Published Jun 28, 2023 8:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) settled the latest in a series of cases citing shipping companies for violations of the Clean Water Act. The two latest cases involving Singapore-based Swire Shipping and Japan-based MMS Co., part of the Meiji Shipping Co. group, resulted in a total of $337,000 in fines for incidents as far away as the Port of Pago Pago in American Samoa as well as California ports.

The violations fall under the EPA’s Vessel General Permit Program which is contained in the Vessel Incident Discharge Act signed into law by the U.S. President in 2018. The act required the EPA to develop new national standards of performance for commercial vessels. The program set standards for vessels greater than 79 feet in length and maintains vessel inspections including a self-monitoring and reporting process as a means of identifying potential sources of spills, broken pollution prevention equipment, and other issues that might lead to permit violations. 

“EPA takes compliance with the Vessel General Permit – a key element under the Clean Water Act – seriously,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “It is vitally important that vessel owners and operators properly manage what they discharge into our oceans, and that they meet their monitoring and reporting requirements.”

The EPA cited three of Swire Shipping’s vessels, including the Papuan Chief, a Hong Kong-registered 22,000 dwt containership, and her sister ship the New Guinea Chief, each with a capacity of 1,600 TEU with violations. Both vessels exclusively visited the Port of Pago Pago in American Samoa. The third vessel, Lintan, a Hong Kong-registered 39,600 dwt bulker, visited the ports of San Francisco and Long Beach in California as well as other U.S. ports.

Under the terms of the settlement, Swire Shipping will pay a total of $137,000 in penalties, assessed at $67,075 for the Papuan Chief, $19,906 for the New Guinea Chief, and $50,019 for the Lintan. The EPA reports the violations included the treatment of ballast water prior to discharging it into the ocean in a manner consistent with the compliance deadline; conducting annual comprehensive inspections and calibrations of a ballast water treatment system; monitoring and sampling discharges from ballast water treatment systems; and failing to report complete and accurate information in annual reports. 

The settlement with MMS includes a total of $200,000 in penalties. The cites the company’s vessels the St. Pauli, a chemical tanker registered in Singapore, and the former Centennial Misumi, a crude oil tanker which has changed names. The settlement includes penalties of $110,509 for the St. Pauli and $89,491 for the Centennial Misumi.

According to the EPA, MMS’s ships failed to meet ballast water limitations for biological indicators and biocide residuals in discharges at U.S. ports, including the Port of Richmond in California. They also had violations for not conducting annual calibrations of ballast water treatment systems, monitoring and sampling discharges from ballast water treatment systems, and not reporting complete and accurate information in annual reports. 

Previous violations of the EPA’s program include reported cases against the NSC Aurora container ship, and the bulk carrier Western Durban. Carnival Corporation also paid $14,500 in violations and agreed to make improvements to its exhaust gas cleaning systems for violations in Alaska waters by multiple cruise ships. Carnival also agreed to pay $75,000 on a supplemental environmental project to provide monitoring information. These EPA violations are in addition to the ongoing enforcement activities by the U.S. Coast Guard and prosecutions by the Department of Justice for specific MARPOL violations.