Polembros Barred from U.S. Waters for 3 Years

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Polembros Shipping LTD., a ship management company headquartered in Greece, was sentenced on Dec. 9 in federal court in New Orleans to pay a $2.7m criminal fine for violating anti-pollution laws, ship safety laws, and making false statements during a U.S. Coast Guard investigation of the M/V Theotokos, the Justice Department announced.

Additionally, Polembros was ordered to pay a separate $100,000 community service payment to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, a subunit of Smithsonian Institute. The money will be used to research and mitigate the effects of marine invasive species suspected to be transported in ballast waters of ocean-going vessels. Invasive species can threaten native species and damage the ecosystems of the United States.

The court further ordered Polembros to serve three years probation. As a condition of the probation, all ships owned or managed by Polembros, currently 20 vessels, will be barred from entering U.S. ports and territorial waters for three years.

Additionally, the Court awarded a total of $540,000 to nine former crew members of the Theotokos who extensively cooperated in the investigation and gave information that led to the guilty plea and conviction of Polembros. Congress granted courts the power to award a "monetary payment" or "whistleblower award" for up to one-half of any criminal fine imposed under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

"The terms of probation and penalties imposed by the court will prevent the company from putting the health of the territorial ports and waterways of the United States at risk while the company benefits from economic activity in our Nation’s waters," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The industry should take notice that the Justice Department and our investigative counterparts will continue to prosecute and seek penalties for those who violate our nation’s environmental laws."

"This historic case showcases the excellent collaboration between personnel from the U. S. Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the U. S. Coast Guard," said Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  "I also want to express my appreciation to the nine crew members of the Theotokos for their extensive cooperation in this investigation. The message should be clear that this office, in conjunction with its law enforcement partners, will continue to vigorously prosecute companies that pollute our marine environment."

Polembros pleaded guilty on Sept. 30, 2009, to violating two counts of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships: one count in connection with failing to maintain an accurate oil record book for the cargo ship M/V Theotokos, and the other concerning the carrying of fuel oil in a tank forward of the collision barrier; violating the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, by failing to maintain accurate ballast water records; violating the Ports of Waterways Safety Act, by failing to report hazardous condition of the crack on the rudder stem of the ship; and making false statements by concealing the fact that fuel oil was leaking into the forepeak ballast tank.

The investigation into the M/V Theotokos led to the first criminal prosecutions under the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act. The false statement charge related to the crew’s attempt to conceal the fact that fuel oil was leaking into the forepeak ballast tank.

Additionally, on Oct. 15, 2009, Panagiotis Lekkas, the master and highest ranking officer aboard the ship, was sentenced to ten months confinement, a $4,000 fine, and a three year ban on entering U.S. ports and territorial waters, for his role in the obstruction of justice, as well as violations of environmental and ship safety laws. On Oct. 1, Charles P. Posas, the vessel’s chief officer, was sentenced to probation and a three year ban from U.S. ports and territorial waters for one count of false statement and one count of violating the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act. In another related case, on Nov. 5, 2009, the chief engineer, Georgios Stamou, was sentenced to pay a $15,000 fine and a term of probation including a five year ban on entering U.S. ports and territorial waters, after pleading guilty to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one felony violation for making a false statement.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service with assistance from inspectors from Sector New Orleans as well as legal assistance from U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans and at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The case is being prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section along with Dorothy Taylor of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans.

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