United States Attorney Michael Mosman announced today the settlement of a criminal investigation into illegal ocean pollution by the cargo ship M/V GRUMANT.
Under the settlement, the operators of the GRUMANT will plead guilty
to a single felony count for violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships, a federal law that implements an international treaty forbidding oil pollution of the oceans by commercial ships. Grid Odessa, Ltd., of Odessa, Ukraine, will pay a fine of $275,000 and be placed on probation.
Large commercial ships use a heavy fuel oil that must be treated on board ship to remove impurities and water before it can be burned in the ship’s engine.
This process creates substantial amounts of oily waste. Under international treaties and US law, these oily wastes cannot be discharged into the ocean, but must be burned on board in an incinerator, or unloaded to a shore facility.
Bilge water wastes that are contaminated with oil cannot be discharged at sea unless they go through pollution control devices, called an Oil Water Separator, that reduce the oil content of the wastes to less than 15 parts per million.
All ships are required to keep an official log, called an Oil Record Book, which accurately records the handling of oily wastes and oily bilge water.
Under the treaties and under US Law, the United States Coast Guard may inspect foreign ships that come into US ports to see if they are complying with the law.
On April 28, 2003, the GRUMANT, a 557 ft long cargo ship registered in St. Vincent/Grenadines, and operated by Grid Odessa, Ltd., entered the Portland harbor to pick up a load of soda ash and potash.
A U.S. Coast Guard boarding team from Marine Safety Office Portland inspected the ship. The Coast Guard found heavy oil contaminating the overboard valve from the Oil Water Separator. Water going through this valve and overboard should have been free of oil. On further inspection, they found a by-pass hose that enabled the crew to route oily wastes and oily bilge water around the Oil Water Separator and be pumped overboard.
The oil water separator itself did not work, as the oil content sensor had been disabled. The incinerator, which should have been used to burn the fuel oil wastes, was not fully functional, and appeared to have been unused.
In spite of these facts, the Oil Record Book stated that the ship had lawfully incinerated its oily waste and discharged bilge water through the Oil Water Separator at no more than 15 ppm oil.
In U.S. District Court today, Grid Odessa, Ltd., through its attorney, admitted that it had knowingly failed to accurately maintain its Oil Record Book and properly record its disposition of oily wastes and bilge water, a felony under the federal Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
U.S. District Judge Garr M. King imposed a fine of $275,000 and placed the company on probation for term of 3 years. The fine was paid immediately. Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin stated in court that the ship would still have to pass U.S. Coast Guard inspection and correct its deficiencies before it would be allowed to leave port, which may take several more days.
This prosecution is part of a effort by the Coast Guard, EPA, United States Department of Justice and US Attorneys Offices to investigate and prosecute criminally commercial ships discharging their oily wastes into the oceans.
Last fall, the U.S. Attorneys Office in Portland prosecuted the chief engineer and first engineer of the M/V CYGNUS, a Toyota car carrier, for falsifying the oil record book on that ship. Both were convicted of felony violations of the pollution laws.
The Coast Guard was assisted in the investigation by vessel inspectors from Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigations Division. The prosecutors were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott Kerin and Robert Ross, and Senior Trial Attorney Richard Poole from the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section.