Zeaborn Pleads Guilty, Pays $2M to Settle Felony MARPOL Charges

Star Maia
File image courtesy Grieg Star

Published Aug 22, 2023 11:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

Shipping company Zeaborn Ship Management has pleaded guilty to charges of maintaining a false oil record book in connection with discharges of oily bilge water from the freighter Star Maia last year. The company is the latest operator to encounter the U.S. Coast Guard's strict enforcement of international oil pollution rules - and the multi-million-dollar plea agreements that often mark the beginning of the trial. 

According to prosecutors, Zeaborn and Star Maia's chief engineer admitted to dumping more than 7,500 gallons of untreated oily bilge water into the ocean without running it through the oil-water separator. This common cost-saving practice is banned by international treaty and federal law. The engineer also admitted that these discharges were falsely recorded in the vessel's oil record book.

These infractions might attract a deficiency note or a detention during an inspection overseas, but in the United States, maintaining a falsified oil record book is a felony offense.

In addition to the engineer's discharges, the vessel's captain admitted that the ship's crew burned trash on deck in empty barrels - a standard distress signal - and then threw the barrels over the side. These unusual disposal methods were not recorded in the garbage record book, as is required by federal law. 

“Illegal dumping of oil, falsification of oil record books and flagrant disregard for air emission requirements are egregious violations. These guilty pleas should serve as a reminder that the Coast Guard and our partners at the Justice Department will work tirelessly to hold accountable those that seek to deliberately harm the maritime environment," said Capt. James W. Spitler, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego.

Star Maia's captain and chief engineer each pleaded guilty to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, for failure to maintain an accurage garbage record book and failure to maintain an accurate oil record book (respectively). Their sentencing is scheduled for December 1.

Zeaborn pleaded guilty to two similar felony counts. Under the agreement, the company will pay a $1.5 million fine, make a $500,000 community service payment, and serve a four-year probation term with extra environmental compliance oversight for its U.S. port calls. 

“Unlawful oil discharges can cause significant harm to the marine environment,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden for the Southern District of California. “We will continue to safeguard our oceans by vigorous enforcement of environmental laws. Today’s case is a reflection of that commitment.”