Ship’s Chief Engineer Convicted in Vessel Pollution Case

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Mark Humphries, the chief engineer of the M/V Tanabata, an American-flagged car-carrier ship based in Baltimore, was convicted by a jury on one count of conspiracy and two counts of making false statements, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

At trial, it was proven that the M/V Tanabata had a removable bypass pipe or “magic pipe” that was used to discharge oily waste without the use of an oily-water separator, a required pollution control devise. The discharges were, however, falsely recorded as having been processed through the separator in the ship’s oil record book, a required log regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. An engineer testified that the defendant referred to the bypass pipe as the “illegal pipe.” It was also shown during trial that the pipe was hidden when the ship was in port so that it would not be discovered by the Coast Guard.

Humphries was found guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore of conspiring to violate four different laws including making illegal discharges of oil-contaminated bilge waste, in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships; failing to fully maintain an oil record book, in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships; making and using materially false documents; and obstruction of agency proceedings. The jury also found the defendant guilty of two counts of making materially false statements to the Coast Guard in 2002 and 2003, related to instances when the ship was in Baltimore with a falsified oil record book. Humphries was found not guilty of one count of destruction of evidence.

Humphries was chief engineer of the M/V Tanabata between April 2002 and September 2003, during which period he traded shifts with the ship’s other chief engineer, co-defendant Stephen Karas. Karas pleaded guilty to similar charges on March 29, 2007.

“Intentional pollution and deliberate falsification of records by U.S.-licensed mariners are completely unacceptable and will be vigorously prosecuted,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tenpas.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, “The Department of Justice is working diligently with the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency to prosecute people and corporations responsible for polluting our waterways.”

"Protecting the maritime environment is a mission the U.S. Coast Guard performs every day. Uncovering illegal operations such as this one and bringing the perpetrators to justice requires a coordinated effort," said Captain David Lersch, Chief, Prevention Division, Fifth Coast Guard District. "We will continue to aggressively search for and uncover illegal environmental discharges that are affecting oceans throughout the globe."

"The oceans must be protected and commercial vessels must obey the law," said Granta Nakayama, Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement and compliance assurance program. "Those who pollute our waters, and then falsify records in an attempt to cover it up, will be vigorously prosecuted.”

Sentencing has been set for Jan. 10, 2008, before Judge William N. Nickerson. Humphries faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

The M/V Tanabata was operated by Pacific Gulf Marine, Inc. (PGM). PGM pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Jan. 27, 2007, to charges of making illegal discharges of oil-contaminated waste from each of four ships managed by the company. After learning of the investigation, PGM conducted and voluntarily disclosed the results of an internal investigation and cooperated with investigators and prosecutors. PGM was sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine and $500,000 in community service payments and to serve three years probation under the terms of an Environmental Compliance Program subject to court approval.

This investigation was conducted by the Chesapeake Regional Office of the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the EPA Criminal Investigative Division. Additional assistance was provided by the Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe, U.S. Coast Guard Fifth District Legal Office, Coast Guard Office of International and Maritime Law, and Coast Guard headquarters Office of Investigations and Analysis. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Malinda R. Lawrence and Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tonya K. Kowitz and P. Michael Cunningham of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

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