Ship Operator Pleads Guilty and Sentenced

Monday, August 27, 2007
IMC Shipping Co. Pte. Ltd. (IMC), pleaded guilty in federal court in Alaska to a three-count information alleging two violations of the Refuse Act for the illegal discharge of oil and soy beans and one violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for killing of thousands of migratory birds that resulted from the grounding of the M/V Selendang Ayu on Dec. 8, 2004 in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. IMC was subsequently sentenced to pay a criminal penalty of $10m. The grounding of the M/V Selendang Ayu spilled approximately 340,000 gallons of bunker fuel, as well as several thousands of tons of soy beans, into the Bering Sea in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutian Islands resulting in the deaths of several thousand migratory birds.

The subsequent efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard to rescue the crew of the Selendang Ayu resulted in the loss of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at sea when it was struck during the storm by a 30 foot wave. Tragically, six of the Selendang Ayu crew members died in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has also conducted a casualty investigation.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2004, the M/V Selendang Ayu, operated by IMC, was traveling the Great Circle Route through the Aleutian chain in Alaska when it went aground near the north shore of Unalaska Island, west of Skan Bay in the Bering Sea. Unalaska Island is within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. On Dec. 6, 2004, the discovery of a crack in the engine’s number three cylinder liner led the crew to shut down the engine. The ship drifted for three days in high winds and heavy seas while the crew attempted to repair the engine. The crew was never able to restart the engine. On Dec. 8, 2004, the M/V Selendang Ayu ran aground on the north shore of Unalaska Island, Alaska west of Skan Bay.

The criminal penalty includes $4m in community service, specifically, $3m to conduct a risk assessment and related projects for the shipping hazards of the area where the M/V Selendang Ayu went aground near Unalaska Island, and $1m for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Aleutian Chain Unit where the ship went aground. IMC has also been sentenced to serve 3 years probation to include an audit of IMC’s maintenance program. The cost of the clean up of the spill was over $100m. The refuge where the ship went aground hosts the largest nesting population of seabirds in North America and is a significant site for migratory seabirds both nationally and internationally. The refuge’s primary functions are to facilitate scientific research regarding the health of the ocean and promote conservation of seabirds. As a result of the grounding of the Selendang Ayu, approximately 340,000 gallons of bunker oil spilled into the ocean killing migratory birds in numbers into the thousands, and oiling 20 miles of coastline and spilling thousands of metric tons of soy beans into the Bering Sea. The captain of the M/V Selendang Ayu, Kailash Bhushan Singh, previously pleaded guilty on April 1, 2005, to a charge of making a false statement during the casualty investigation regarding the time the engine was shut down prior to the grounding of the M/V Selendang Ayu. The plea agreement in this case addresses only IMC’s criminal culpability. The state and federal trustees are continuing to assess natural resource damages from the spill. This plea agreement does not limit any civil liability that IMC may have to any person or entity, including any federal, state or local government agency. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea (Aunnie) Steward, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis, Special U.S. Attorney Todd Mikolop, all of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Alaska together with Senior Trial Attorney Robert Anderson from the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice. The case was investigated jointly by the following agencies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

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