Guilty Plea on Concealing Vessel Pollution

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Consultores De Navegacion, a Spanish company that operates the M/T Nautilus, an ocean-going chemical tanker ship, pleaded guilty on April 6 in U.S. District Court in Boston and has agreed to pay a fine of $2.5m for criminal violations related to the overboard discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste on the high seas, the Justice Department announced.

The company pleaded guilty to conspiracy, falsification of records, false statements, obstruction, and two violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to maintain an accurate oil record book. The practice of improperly handling and disposing of oil-contaminated waste from the tanker as charged in the indictment took place from at least June 2007 until March 2008.

As part of the plea agreement, Consultores De Navegacion will serve three years of probation and implement a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to ensure there are no future violations of the law. The charges against Cyprus-based Iceport Shipping Co., the owner of the ship, have been dismissed. U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock scheduled sentencing for June, 30, 2009.

Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels such as the M/T Nautilus generate large amounts of waste oil and oil-contaminated bilge waste. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste containing more than 15 parts per million of oil and without treatment by an oily water separator -- a required pollution prevention device. Federal law also requires ships to accurately record each disposal of oil-contaminated bilge water in an oil record book and to have the Oil Record Book available for inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard within the internal waters of the United States.

According to the government, between June 2007 and March 2008, senior engineers on the M/T Nautilus directed subordinate engine room crew members to use a metal pipe to bypass the ship's oil water separator and instead to discharge oil-contaminated waste directly overboard. On two occasions in August 2007, Vadym Tumakov, a Ukrainian who at that time served as chief engineer of the M/T Nautilus, directed the discharge of pollution overboard. In addition, in February 2008, Carmelo Oria, a Spanish citizen who served as chief engineer at that time, directed a discharge directly overboard from the ship's bilge wells.

The government's investigation began in March 2008, when inspectors from the U.S. Coast Guard conducted an examination of the M/T Nautilus, following the ship's arrival in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and subsequently in the Port of Boston. The inspections uncovered evidence that crewmembers aboard the ship had improperly handled and disposed of the ship's oil-contaminated bilge water and falsified entries in the ship's official oil record book to conceal these activities.

Oria, who was the chief engineer on the M/T Nautilus between January and March 2008 pleaded guilty on March 9, 2009, to maintaining an oil record book that concealed the improper discharge of untreated waste directly from the ship's bilges. Vadym Tumakov, who was the chief engineer on the M/T Nautilus in August 2007 pleaded guilty to using falsified records that concealed improper discharges of oil-contaminated bilge waste from the ship. They are both scheduled to be sentenced on April 13, 2009 and face up to 6 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

As chief engineers, Oria and Tumakov were responsible for all engine room operations. Charges against Tumakov were originally filed in the District of New Jersey and the case was subsequently transferred to the District of Massachusetts.

"Corporate entities and individual crewmembers that deliberately bypass required environmental controls and pump untreated bilge water directly into the ocean should expect to be investigated and prosecuted. Consultores De Navegacion violated the law and today they are facing the consequences," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “As long as individuals and maritime companies ignore this nation's environmental laws, the Justice Department will continue to bring cases and seek justice for those involved."

"We remain committed to protecting our precious natural resources, and hope that today's conviction sends a clear message to everyone in the worldwide maritime community that the Government will investigate and prosecute anyone who attempts to circumvent our nation's anti-pollution laws," said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan.

"This is a clear victory in our ongoing effort to stop intentional or negligent pollution and ensure those responsible are brought to justice," said Rear Admiral Dale G. Gabel, Commander of the First Coast Guard District in Boston, MA. "The Coast Guard remains committed to working with the maritime industry and federal, state and local law enforcement partners to protect the environmental resources of our nation."

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda M. Ricci of the U.S. Attorney's Economic Crimes Unit, Trial Attorney Todd Mikolop of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Jones of the U.S. Coast Guard First District Legal Office.

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