Solvang’s Clipper Shipping Fined $1.5M for MARPOL Offense in Togo

MARPOL fines
Clipper will pay a $1.5 million fine and implement a compliance plan for nine of its ships (Solvang file photo)

Published Jul 7, 2023 12:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

Clipper Shipping, a division of Norway’s Solvang, a leading transporter of LPG and petrochemical gases, was sentenced by a court in Texas to pay a fine of $1.5 million after being convicted of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. Clipper admitted that oily bilge water was discharged from the tanker Clipper Saturn (42,500 dwt) and the discharges were omitted from the Oil Record Book.    

What makes this case stand out is not the enforcement of the MARPOL violations, which the U.S. Coast Guard and Justice Department are regularly enforcing, but the location of the discharges. The case centered around the dumping of oily bilge water between September 27 and October 2021, while the Clipper Saturn was anchored near Lome, Togo

During a Coast Guard inspection of the vessel in Houston, Texas, on October 28, 2021, authorities reported that they learned about the overseas discharges. They were then able to uncover evidence not only of the discharges but attempts by the vessel’s crew to hide what they had done weeks earlier.

“Not only did this ship pollute waterways, but they tried to cover it up,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani of the Southern District of Texas (SDTX). “To put it simply, Clipper Saturn wanted to get rid of dirty oily water from their ship. Instead of filtering out the hazardous elements, as required, they decided to cut costs and just release the whole contaminated mess into the sea. Unfortunately for them, they got caught when they docked in Houston.”

The court case began in April 2023 when criminal charges were filed in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division against Clipper Shipping and its vessel the Clipper Saturn. An unnamed chief engineer was cited as the person in charge and responsible for the issues in the violation.

According to the court papers, the then-chief engineer of the gas carrier directed that oily bilge water be transferred into the vessel’s gray water tank and then discharged directly overboard under the cover of darkness. To accomplish the discharge, the then-chief engineer ordered that a section of piping be removed and a hose installed onto the eductor system. This arrangement was used to discharge the gray water tank directly overboard. Personnel then re-installed and repainted the piping in the area to appear that none had been removed. 

The USCG undertook a routine inspection of the vessel a month later when it arrived in Houston. They reported that inspectors discovered that the Oil Record Book “failed to contain properly recorded entries regarding discharges of machinery space bilge water that had not been processed and discharged to a shore facility or barge.”

As part of the plea agreement, Clipper Shipping will also implement an enhanced Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) on nine vessels. The ECP requires independent auditing and monitoring of the vessels as well as imposing requirements to enhance the pollution prevention systems on the vessels.