A federal grand jury in returned a second superseding indictment charging Fleet Management Limited, a ship management company, with negligently causing the discharge of 50,000 gallons of oil from the Cosco Busan and falsifying documents after the crash to cover-up the company’s negligence, the Justice Department announced today.
Fleet Management, the company responsible for operating the Cosco Busan, was charged with six felony counts for making false statements and obstruction justice. According to the indictment, Fleet Management, acting through senior ship officers and shore-based supervisory officials, concealed and covered-up documents with an intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation of the spill. The falsified documents include a fictitious passage plan for Nov. 7, 2007, the day of the crash, as well as two prior voyages made after Fleet assumed management of the vessel in October 2007. Fleet’s safety procedures, required by law, mandated berth-to-berth passage plans for each voyage. However, according to the indictment, Fleet created falsified plans after the crash and concealed and covered up the real ship records.
The grand jury’s indictment also charges Fleet Management with misdemeanor crimes for violating the Clean Water Act (CWA), as amended by the Oil Spill Act of 1990—a law enacted in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster—and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by causing the death of protected species of migratory birds. As a result of the discharge of heavy fuel oil from the Cosco Busan, approximately 2,000 birds died, including brown pelicans, marbled murrelets and western grebes. The brown pelican is a federally endangered species and the marbled murrelet is a federally threatened species and an endangered species under law.
Fleet Management is charged as a co-defendant with Captain John Cota, a ship pilot responsible for assisting the ship to safely transit the internal waters, with the environmental crimes. The indictment charges that on Nov. 7, 2007, Cota and Fleet were both responsible for negligently causing the discharge of approximately 50,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil from the Cosco Busan because they failed to stay on a collision free course, failed to prepare and review an adequate passage plan before departure, departed in heavy fog, proceeded at an unsafe speed despite limited visibility, failed to use the vessel’s radar on the final approach, failed to operate properly the vessel’s electronic chart system, as well as other navigational errors. Fleet Management is also charged with negligence for failing to adequately train the new crew that it had placed on the ship and failing to post an adequate lookout. According to the indictment, these failures led to the Cosco Busan striking the bridge and discharging oil into .
The maximum penalty for Fleet Management’s alleged felony obstruction and false statements offenses is a criminal fine of $500,000 per count or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor violation of the CWA is $200,000 or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. The maximum penalty for a Migratory Bird Act violation is a $15,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense. Fleet Management’s initial appearance has not yet been scheduled.