A Federal Jury found Ronald Cook, a Canadian citizen, guilty of illegally dumping trash bags full of asbestos into the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. He had been hired to lead a crew performing demolition on an old ferry boat, the Muskegan Clipper, as it sailed from San Diego, California, through the Panama Canal
to Mobile, Alabama. The ship was eventually to be transformed into a riverboat gambling
casino. In order to save time and costs, the crew bagged up the demolition debris, including plastic garbage bags full of asbestos, and threw it overboard into the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Carribean Sea at the direction of Cook. Dissenting crew members photographed the others as they threw the asbestos and trash into the sea. The exact amount of asbestos that was removed from the Muskegon Clipper, a U.S. registered vessel, and dumped overboard is unknown. Witnesses reported that "hundreds" of bags were dumped. It is assumed that a significant amount was discharged, as the asbestos removal contract was estimated to cost between $600,000 and $1.7 million. "Those who perpetrate crimes in violation of our environmental laws will be tracked down and prosecuted," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "I'm please to see criminals like this brought to justice."
Cook, a Canadian citizen from Victoria, British Columbia, was extradited from Canada in November 2002. He has been convicted on all three counts of an indictment which charged him with conspiracy and substantive counts filed under the Ocean Dumping Act and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. Cook's trial was held in the District of Columbia because the dumping occurred in international waters and Cook is not a citizen of the United States.