Greek Shipping Firms Fined $4M for Oil Discharges in Texas Ports

File image courtesy Smithsonian

By The Maritime Executive 05-05-2019 01:48:30

Two Greek shipping companies, Avin International LTD and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises, were sentenced Friday in the Eastern District of Texas on charges stemming from several discharges of oil into the waters of Texas ports by the Greek-flagged oil tanker Nicos I.V.

At some point before July 6, 2017, the ballast system of the Nicos I.V. became contaminated with oil. That oil was discharged twice from the vessel into the waters of the Port of Houston on July 6 and July 7 during deballasting operations. The master, Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos, and the chief officer, Alexios Thomopoulos, were informed of the discharges. Tsoumakos failed to report the incidents, and neither discharge was recorded in the vessel’s oil record book.

As the vessel made her next voyage from Port Houston to Port Arthur, her crew observed oil in several of the ballast tanks. After arriving in Port Arthur, more oil began bubbling up next to the vessel, which was then reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. During the ensuing investigation, both Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos lied to the Coast Guard and said that the oil in the ballast tanks had come on board when they took on ballast in Port Arthur.

Avin was the operator of the Nicos I.V., and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises was the owner. Last November, both companies pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction, one count of failure to report discharge of oil and three counts of negligent discharge of oil. Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos also pleaded guilty to making false statements to members of the United States Coast Guard.

Under the plea agreement, the companies will pay a $4 million criminal fine and serve a four-year term of probation, during which vessels operated by the companies will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan, including inspections by an independent auditor. Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos have already been sentenced to a fine of $10,000 each. 

"We believe that the results of this case will serve as a deterrent that will ultimately prevent or reduce the damage to the environment," said Capt. Jacqueline Twomey of Coast Guard MSU Port Arthur. "By demonstrating the consequences of this vessel’s illicit actions, [this case has] ensured this vessel and others . . . comply with domestic and international environmental laws intended to eliminate marine pollution."