Greek Ship Manager and Officers Sentenced for MARPOL and Safety Violations

Product tanker arrived in Rhode Island after failing to disclose its inert gas system was not working (ProvPort file photo)

Published Aug 9, 2023 4:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. District Court in Rhode Island on Tuesday, August 8, completed the sentencing of a Greek shipping company along with the captain and chief engineer for a series of MARPOL and safety violations uncovered by the U.S. Coast Guard during a February 2022 inspection of a product tanker when it arrived in Rhode Island after a transatlantic crossing. The company and ship’s officers had agreed in March 2023 to each plead guilty to one count of violating The Ports and Waterways Safety Act and The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.  

The defendants had admitted their guilt in court in May 2023 with yesterday’s court proceeding to complete the sentencing. The company had already reached a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge and for failing to report a hazardous condition on board the product tanker Galissas before it arrived in the United States. 

The 50,000 dwt tanker, which was built in 2008, was cited for violations between November 2021 and February 2022. Before arriving in the United States on February 19, 2022, the vessel had racked up 11 deficiencies during a Port State Inspection in Estonia in January 2022 but was not detained. When it arrived in the U.S., the USCG conducted another inspection finding 26 deficiencies resulting in a 13-day detention.

Zeus Lines Management, which was then the owner of the ship, was sentenced by United States District Judge Mary McElroy to pay a total monetary penalty of $2.25 million, consisting of a fine of $1,687,500 and a community service payment of $562,500. The community service payment will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects to benefit marine and coastal natural resources located in the State of Rhode Island. Additionally, Zeus will serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan. The Galissas was sold in 2023.

The court case stemmed both from MARPOL violations as well as a safety deficiency that the company sought to hide from the U.S. Coast Guard. According to information presented in court, while the Galissas was conducting cargo operations in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in February 2022, crew members became aware that the vessel’s inert gas system became inoperable. Rather than remaining in Rotterdam until the inert gas system could be repaired, Zeus and the ship’s captain decided to sail to the United States, where a spare part would be delivered upon the vessel’s arrival. 

On February 11, 2022, while crossing the Atlantic, Captain Jose Ervin Mahigne Porquez submitted a “Notice of Arrival” to the U.S. Coast Guard which failed to report the hazardous condition. He further failed to disclose the situation when the USCG notified the captain of an inspection planned for the vessel when it reached Rhode Island. 

Arriving off the coast of Rhode Island on February 19, 2022, the vessel embarked a local ship’s pilot to sail the vessel closer to shore and take delivery of the spare part. Although the crew installed the spare part, the inert gas system remained inoperable. The captain only acknowledged the problem when USCG Coast Guard inspectors boarded the vessel.

The Coast Guard immediately took measurements of the oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks, which registered more than double the maximum allowable levels. The Coast Guard ordered that the vessel be moved further offshore to not endanger the port of Newport, Rhode Island.

During the court proceedings, it was also revealed that Zeus’ Operations Manager directed the master to create a logbook showing oxygen levels during the transatlantic voyage.  Captain Porquez had a logbook created that falsely indicated the cargo tanks were at safe oxygen levels when the vessel left the Netherlands and remained at safe levels during the majority of the vessel’s transit of the Atlantic Ocean. The USCG said the readings were not taken and the fraudulent logbook was presented during its inspection.

Zeus and the ship’s chief engineer Roberto Cayabyab Penaflor were also charged with MARPOL violations. On three separate occasions between November 2021 and February 2022, Penaflor ordered crew members working for him in the engine room to discharge a total of approximately 9,544 gallons of oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank directly into the ocean using the vessel’s emergency fire pump, bypassing the vessel’s required pollution prevention equipment. He also created a false logbook which was given to the USCG inspectors.

The Galissas’ captain and chief engineer were sentenced to terms of probation. They had each been facing a maximum possible sentence of six years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.