Empire Bulkers Limited and Joanna Maritime Limited – related companies based in Greece – have pleaded guilty to knowingly breaching the Prevention of Pollution from Ships Act and the Safe Ports and Waterways Act in relation to the ship to Joanna engine.
The guilty pleas were made today in federal court in New Orleans before U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon. If the proposed plea deal is approved by the court, the companies will be fined $2 million ($1 million each) and four years probation subject to the terms of an environmental compliance plan that includes independent vessel audits and oversight by an appointed tribunal. Monitor.
“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. “These companies have knowingly engaged in dangerous and deceptive misconduct that warrants strict enforcement of the law.”
“This lawsuit sends a clear and deterrent message that those who take shortcuts and break the law will be vigorously prosecuted,” said U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “These companies will be under close scrutiny going forward.”
In pleading guilty, Empire Bulkers and Joanna Maritime admitted to knowingly falsifying the ship’s oil log, a mandatory record, which concealed discharges of oil-contaminated waste into the sea in violation of MARPOL, an international treaty to which the United States are gone. The criminal violation of the law to prevent pollution from ships was discovered by a US Coast Guard inspector who noticed that a valve handle used to sample the oil content of discharges overboard was out of position during a March 2021 inspection in New Orleans, according to a joint factual statement filed in court. A metal part found welded inside allowed spills overboard while the sample evaluated by the Oil Content Monitor was diluted with fresh water. A Coast Guard advisory issued in 2008 as well as an advisory from the monitor manufacturer warned against this exact method of fooling the oil content monitor. Discharges overboard are only permitted if treated by an oily water separator and measured by the oil content monitor to contain an oil concentration of less than 15 parts per million without dilution. Oil log entries for overboard discharges presented to the Coast Guard incorrectly indicated that discharges had occurred through 15 ppm equipment. The owner and operator of the ship also admitted that the discharge entries in the oil log 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 discovered an unreported safety hazard during the same inspection. Once the Coast Guard was on board the ship, the ship’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 with the vessel during the voyage noticed oil drippings in the engine room. They followed the oil trail that led 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 closed, disabling both pressure relief valves. Safety relief valves on fuel oil heaters perform an essential safety function as they allow pressure to be released and oil to be diverted to a waste oil reservoir. In court filings, the defendants admitted that the clogged relief valves and the large volume of oil leaking from the relief valve presented unsafe conditions that were not immediately reported to the Coast Guard. in violation of the Ports and Waterways Security Act. . Had there been a fire or explosion in the purifier room, it could have been catastrophic and resulted in loss of propulsion, loss of life and pollution, according to the factual statement.