Chief Engineer Pleads Guilty in Alaska

Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Je Yong Lee, Chief Engineer of the M/V Sohoh pled guilty in United States District Court to three federal felony crimes. Defendant Lee admitted to keeping and presenting a false log book that concealed the dumping of waste oil and sludge from his ship, obstructing a United States Coast Guard investigation and witness tampering for telling crew members to lie to a federal grand jury in Anchorage. The plea was announced by Timothy M. Burgess, United States Attorney for Alaska and Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "Crimes against our environment, including those that take place in the waters off our coasts, will not be tolerated," said Sansonetti. "The result in today's case in Alaska was made possible by our continued commitment to vigorous enforcement of our nation's environmental laws." According to the indictment, the M/V Sohoh is a Panamanian flagged freighter vessel operated by a Korean company named Oswego Limited that carries frozen seafood to Asia. Defendant Lee became the vessel's chief engineer in charge of engine room operations in August of 2001. In February 2002, the United States Coast Guard detained the Sohoh, and three other freighters under common management, in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for possible violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. During a United States Coast Guard inspection of the Sohoh in Dutch Harbor on February 7, 2002, agency inspectors found an oil laden bypass hose which they believed was used to circumvent or "bypass" the Oil Water Separator, a required pollution prevention device. The Coast Guard also found oil in the overboard discharge valve of the vessel where only clean water would ordinarily be located. Special Agents from the United States Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation subsequently executed a search warrant on the Sohoh and served grand jury subpoenas requiring members of the engine room crew to testify before a federal grand jury in Anchorage. As part of his guilty pleas, Lee admitted that after crew members received grand jury subpoenas, but before they testified before the grand jury, he held meetings at which he instructed the engine room crew members under his supervision to lie when asked about the use of the bypass hose. According to court papers, oil contaminated bilge water and oily sludge was dumped directly overboard on more than one occasion during the Sohoh's voyage from Japan to Alaska between December 2001 and January 2002. Lee also admitted that the entries he signed in the ship's Oil Record Book were false, and that he knowingly and willfully failed to record the direct overboard discharges of oil contaminated material that occurred. The defendant signed these false entries and omissions intending that they deceive the Coast Guard and other port state control authorities into believing that the Sohoh was properly managing its oily wastes. The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced in Federal District Court in Anchorage on August 8, 2002. Under the terms of his plea agreement, the defendant could face up to 33 months in jail. This matter is being investigated by the United States Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for Alaska and the Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Department of Justice.
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