A Greek shipowner and bulk carrier operator are the latest in a series of lawsuits announced by the US Coast Guard and the Department of Justice in New Orleans, Louisiana. In the latest case, stemming from a routine inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard, the ship’s owner and operators face a $2 million fine after pleading guilty to charges related to environmental and safety crimes in the United States. United States.
The Department of Justice says Empire Bulkers and Joanna Maritime will each be fined $1 million after pleading guilty to willfully tampering with pollution prevention equipment causing oil pollution and failing to report unsafe conditions. In addition to fines, the proposed plea deal, which still requires court approval, would also include four years of probation under an environmental compliance plan that would include independent ship audits and a monitor appointed by the court.
The US Coast Guard discovered the violations during a routine port inspection of the 33,717 dwt bulk carrier Joan in March 2021. The vessel, built in 2010 and registered in the Marshall Islands, is owned by Joanna Maritime and managed by Empire Bulkers of Greece.
“The willful violation of environmental and safety laws poses a serious threat to American ports and waters, and to those who work on ships,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Division of the Environment and Natural Resources Department of Justice.
The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a routine inspection of the bulk carrier while it was in New Orleans between March 6 and March 11, 2021. While inspectors were on board March 11, one of them noticed that a valve handle was used to take the oil content from the overboards. dumps was out of position. Upon closer examination, they discovered that a piece of metal had been welded inside, allowing overboard discharges to occur while the sample assessed by the oil content monitor was diluted. with fresh water.
In pleading guilty, the two companies further admitted to knowingly falsifying the ship’s oil record book, a mandatory record, to conceal discharges of oil-contaminated waste into the sea. The discharge entries in the Oil Record Book had been co-signed by an engineer who had nothing to do with the operations or had no knowledge of their accuracy. The Coast Guard noted in court documents that while overboard discharges are permitted if treated by an oily water separator and measured by the oil content monitor, entries made in the Oil Record Book regarding discharges overboard and presented to the Coast Guard incorrectly stated that the discharges occurred through the appropriate equipment.
Once the Coast Guard was on board the vessel, the vessel’s representatives requested permission to maneuver from the Bonnet Carré anchorage to the CCI buoys further upstream where cargo operations were to take place. Coast Guard inspectors traveling aboard the vessel during the voyage noticed oil drippings in the engine room, which led them to other safety hazards not noted during the inspection.
The Coast Guard followed the oil trail to an area near the purifier room. When they looked inside the purifier room, the Coast Guard discovered that the pressure relief valve discharge line had been disconnected and crimped shut, disabling both pressure relief valves. According to the Coast Guard, fuel oil heater relief valves perform a critical safety function as they allow pressure relief and oil diversion to a waste oil tank.
In announcing the main deal, prosecutors said the companies knowingly engaged in dangerous and deceptive misconduct that they said warranted strict enforcement of the law. Going forward, they said the companies would be under close scrutiny.
News of the case comes just a week after the same bureaus also reported that a chief engineer on a large commercial bulk carrier had pleaded guilty in US federal court to two counts of deliberately dumping oily water near New Orleans and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard during the oil spill investigation. The two incidents occurred within days of each other at the Port of New Orleans.