Greek Companies Fined $1.3 Million for Oily Discharge

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By MarEx 2016-10-24 18:48:48

Ship operator Angelakos (Hellas) and shipowner Gallia Graeca Shipping have been fined $1.3 million in the U.S. District Court in Seattle for dumping oily waste at sea.

The companies were found guilty of 12 felony counts in June this year. The charges included violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, falsifying records and engaging in a scheme to defraud the United States. 

According to court records, the bulk carrier Gallia Graeca travelled from China to Seattle in October 2015 with an inoperable oily water separator. On October 16, 26 and 27, 2015, the defendants discharged approximately 5,000 gallons of oily bilge water overboard. They concealed these incidents from the Coast Guard by making false statements to inspectors and making false statements and omissions in the ship’s oil record book. 

When U.S. Coast Guard inspectors asked the engineers to operate the oil water separator during the inspection, the engineers did so in such a way that the equipment appeared to be working properly even though it was not.

When Coast Guard inspectors examined the oil water separator they found its filters were clogged with oil and found oil residue in the overboard discharge piping. Records indicated the oil water separator had not been serviced for months prior to the voyage from China. The defendants presented the Coast Guard with an official oil record book stating that bilge water had not been discharged during the voyage to Seattle. However, the Coast Guard investigation discovered evidence that oily water had been discharged into the sea three times on its voyage from China.

Calling it “a voyage of deception and pollution,” prosecutors argued that the engineers tried to hide the pollution from the Coast Guard to avoid having the ship detained in Seattle. Keeping the ship on schedule was a benefit to the owners and operators who had a contract to move $25 million in goods out of Seattle. Shipping company executives had been in contact with the engineers about how they should present the log book for the Coast Guard inspection.

The companies were placed on five years of probation and required to have environmental compliance plans in place which will ensure they are abiding by anti-pollution policies and regulations.

In addition to the $1.3 million fine, Judge John C. Coughenour ordered a $200,000 community service payment to be shared between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Parks Foundation. The two engineers who operated the ship’s equipment and falsified the log books were sentenced to short prison terms before returning to Greece.

In imposing the monetary penalty, Coughenour said he hoped the sanctions “would resonate and cause other companies to pause when they think about creating a corporate culture that encourages deception.”

“These companies promoted a culture of lies and lawlessness that left a trail of pollution in the Pacific Ocean,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “Knowing that the Coast Guard was going to do an inspection of their shipping vessel, corporate managers allowed the chief engineer to present falsified documents. The significant fines imposed in this case send a clear message that those who spoil our environment by putting their business interests ahead of our laws will be held responsible.”

Falsification of records in a federal investigation is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  Violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships is punishable by up to six years of imprisonment. Scheming to defraud the United States is punishable by up to five years in prison. Each count of conviction is also punishable by a $500,000 fine against each corporation, and $250,000 against each individual defendant.