Greek Shipping Company Pleads Guilty to Oil Pollution Charges

File image courtesy U.S. National Archives

By The Maritime Executive 11-28-2018 10:10:12

On Monday, Greek shipping companies Avin International and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises pleaded guilty to charges related to the discharge of oil from the tanker Nicos I.V. at Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. Each firm admitted to one count of obstructing an agency proceeding, one count of failure to report a discharge of oil, and three counts of negligent discharge of oil. 

The plea deal includes a $4 million criminal fine and a four-year term of probation, including an environmental compliance plan and external independent audits. 

The vessel's master, Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos, and her chief officer, Alexios Thomopoulos, each pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements to the United States Coast Guard during an investigation into the discharges. The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. 

According to the Justice Department, the Nicos I.V.'s ballast system became contaminated with oil at some point during or before July 2017. On July 6-7, the Nicos I.V.'s crew discharged contaminated ballast twice into the waters of the Port of Houston. Both Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos were informed of the two discharges, and neither reported the infractions.

After leaving Houston, during a transit to Port Arthur, the tanker's deck crew inspected the ballast tanks and noticed that they contained oil. After the Nicos moored in Port Arthur, oil was observed bubbling up next to her hull, and an undisclosed party called the Coast Guard. When inspectors arrived, Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos lied about the discharges, asserting that the oil had not been detected until the vessel's arrival in Port Arthur and must have been introduced into the tanks afterwards, when the ship took on ballast. 

“The international ports of Houston and Port Arthur are no one’s dumping ground,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Bossert Clark. “Those who knowingly discharge their waste and lie to the Coast Guard to dodge their legal responsibilities under federal law are on notice that our investigators and prosecutors stand ready to hold them accountable.”

Avin International is the operator of the Greek-flagged Nicos I.V., and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises is her owner. Both firms share an address in Athens. 

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), U.S. Coast Guard Sector MSU Port Arthur, the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Batte of the Eastern District of Texas.