Coast Guard Officer Indicted for Vessel Pollution

Friday, August 10, 2007
David G. Williams, a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and the Main Propulsion Assistant for the Coast Guard Cutter RUSH, was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstructing the investigation into his authorization of the direct overboard discharge of bilge wastes through the deep sink into the Honolulu Harbor, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment & Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Edward H. Kubo Jr.

Williams was charged with two counts: one count of obstruction of justice and one count of making a false statement. As the Main Propulsion Assistant, he oversaw the maintenance of the main diesel engines and other machinery in the engine room for the Coast Guard Cutter RUSH, a 378 ft. high endurance cutter stationed in Honolulu.

According to the indictment, on or about March 8, 2006, Williams authorized the direct discharge of bilge wastes into Honolulu Harbor. The Engineering Department personnel engaged in an unusual and abnormal operation and configuration of engine room equipment to pump bilge wastes from the aft bilge to the deep sink and overboard into Honolulu Harbor, thereby bypassing the “oily water separator” (OWS) system. The OWS system is a pollution prevention control device used by high endurance Coast Guard cutters like the RUSH to manage accumulations of bilge wastes while underway at sea. The OWS system collects, stores, and processes wastes to separate the water from the oil and other wastes. On or about March 13, 2006, the State of Hawaii Department of Health received an anonymous complaint stating that U.S. Coast Guard Cutter RUSH crew members were ordered to pump approximately 2,000 gallons of bilge waste into Honolulu Harbor. On May 1, 2006, investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received confirmation from Main Propulsion Division personnel who personally participated that bilge wastes had indeed been discharged through the deep sink and into Honolulu Harbor. CGIS investigators obtained various documents from the RUSH, including engineering and ship’s logs, tank level sounding sheets, and a pneumatic pump.

According to the indictment, when interviewed by investigators from the CGIS and EPA, Williams denied authorizing personnel to discharge bilge waste to the deep sink and stated that he was not aware of the pumping of bilge wastes to bypass the ship’s OWS system. The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted Williams could face 5 years in prison on each count. The government’s investigation was initiated by the CGIS and EPA. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Joseph A. Poux of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Ronald G. Johnson, chief of the Major Crimes Section; and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii William L. Shipley.

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