MOL Subsidiary Indicted for Oily Waste Discharges
Two shipping companies and one mariner have been indicted in connection with alleged bilge water discharges from the product tanker Zao Galaxy, including one carried out just three nautical miles off San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The discharges were allegedly motivated by a desire to empty the vessel's bilge tank so that it could be cleaned and repainted before a scheduled U.S. Coast Guard inspection.
In early February, the Zao Galaxy arrived in Richmond, California bearing a cargo of palm oil from the Philippines. U.S. Coast Guard marine inspectors boarded her at Richmond for a PSC inspection and a previously-requested Certificate of Compliance (COC) examination. During the course of the boarding, a whistleblower from the crew passed a note to the inspectors requesting a private meeting to talk about alleged MARPOL violations, according to charging documents.
The inspectors expanded the scope of their compliance inspection and interviewed members of the crew for more information. During his interview, the whistleblower provided the inspectors with four videos depicting untreated oily waste sent overboard "through a configuration of drum containers, flexible pipes, flanges, and the soot eductor." One video was time-stamped for 0513 hours on February 11, when the Zao Galaxy was located just three nautical miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The crewmember showed the Coast Guard inspectors the location of the "magic pipe" discharge equipment and demonstrated how it could be used to bypass the oily water separator. Later lab testing confirmed that there were traces of lubricating oil and fuel inside these components.
A second crewmember asserted that the Zao Galaxy's first assistant engineer, Philippine national Gilbert Dela Cruz, ordered him to carry out the alleged discharges. Dela Cruz was responsible for the operation of the separator and for making entries into the ship’s Oil Record Book; the Zao Galaxy's ORB contained no entries documenting the discharges, according to prosecutors. Further, the indictment alleges, Dela Cruz was unable to demonstrate the proper operation of the oily water separator to investigators, and there were no ORB entries documenting a separator failure.
The indictment also alleges that Dela Cruz attempted to convince the second crewmember to withhold information about the discharges from the Coast Guard.
If convicted on all counts and sentenced to the maximum federal guideline limits, Dela Cruz could face decades in prison. The ship's owner, holding company FGL Moon Marshall Limited, and its operator, Unix Line Pte Ltd., also face MARPOL charges stemming from the case. Unix Line is a ship management subidiary of MOL Chemical Tankers, a Singapore-based subsidiary of MOL Group.
It would be Unix's second conviction: in 2003, the company pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the unlawful discharge of oily waste and false ORB entries. "UNIX's 2003 admissions and conviction show that the illegal discharges from the M/T ZAO GALAXY were not mistakes or accidents, but instead demonstrate UNIX's modus operandi, motive, intent, preparation, plan, and knowledge," alleged CGIS Agent Ashley McKay in the criminal complaint.