Nitta Kisen Kaisha Fined for MARPOL Violations
Japanese shipping company Nitta Kisen Kaisha has become the latest shipowner to plead guilty to MARPOL recordkeeping charges brought by American authorities.
On May 17, 2017, U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the Nitta-owned geared bulker Atlantic Oasis at the port of Wilmington, North Carolina. During the inspection, a crewmember told the PSC officers that oily wastes were being discharged on the orders of the vessel's chief engineer, Jihnyun Youn. The crewmember also showed U.S. Coast Guard inspectors where the hoses used for the discharges were hidden. Youn initially lied to the inspectors about the existence of a sounding log with records of the vessel's tank levels, but by the end of the inspection, he admitted to ordering the illegal discharges and admitted to the existence of the log.
Nitta admitted that Youn did not properly document the illegal discharge of oily wastes, including the discharge of wastes from the ship's fuel and lube oil filtration systems and the discharge of oily bilge water. Nitta was fined $1,000,000, placed on probation for a period of three years and ordered to implement a court-approved Environmental Compliance Plan. Youn was placed on probation for one year and ordered to pay a fine of $5,500. The pleas and penalties relate to recordkeeping, not to the act of discharging the wastes.
“The heart of this case is the illegal discharge itself and the damage that action did to our environment,” said United States Attorney for North Carolina's Eastern District Robert J. Higdon Jr. “We trust that the fines and penalties imposed in this case will act as a deterrent to anyone who would treat our environment as a dump-ground.”
According to a tally compiled by the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Justice Department has convicted 140 shipping firms of MARPOL violations and collected $470 million in fines since enforcement began in the 1990s. Nearly ten percent of the total came from one penalty - the $40 million fine for Princess Cruises related to the discharge of oily bilge water from the Caribbean Princess, Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.
Many of the U.S. Coast Guard's most prominent MARPOL enforcement actions are initiated by whistleblower reports, and whistleblowers may be rewarded in the event of a conviction and fine. In the Princess Cruises case, the whistleblower - newly-hired third assistant engineer Christopher Keays - won a $1 million reward as part of the judgement..