Ship Owners to Plead Guilty in Ship Breakup

Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Owners of a ship that ran aground on an Aleutian Island will plead guilty to illegally discharging its cargo and have agreed to pay a hefty fine, reports said. IMC Shipping Co. Pte. Ltd. (IMC) of Singapore will also plead guilty to killing hundreds of seabirds when its 738-ft. freighter, Selendang Ayu, ran aground Dec. 8, 2004, and broke in two on the north side of Unalaska Island, said U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen.

The vessel was carrying an estimated 442,000 gallons of fuel oil and some diesel. About 336,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil and diesel spilled, along with 66,000 tons of soybeans. During rescue operations, a Coast Guard helicopter carrying Selendang Ayu crew members from the tanker crashed. Six of the 10 freighter crew members, who had been plucked from the stricken ship, were killed. The Coast Guard helicopter crew was rescued.

Court documents filed Tuesday indicate IMC intends to pay a criminal penalty of $10 million. The penalty includes $4 million in community service, including $3 million to assess risks for shipping hazards where the Selendang Ayu went aground and $1 million for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. IMC has also agreed to serve three years' probation, which will include an audit of IMC's maintenance program. The parties requested that the plea be entered and sentencing be scheduled for Aug. 22. The Selendang Ayu had left Tacoma, Wash., on its way to China with a load of soybeans when it experienced mechanical problems. The vessel's engine was shut down as crew members attempted repairs. The vessel drifted for two days, and as it approached Unalaska Island, crewmen were unable to restart the engine. The ship grounded and broke apart.

The spill affected about 37 miles of shoreline. More than 1,600 birds and six sea otters were found dead. IMC paid more than $100 million in cleanup costs. The captain of the Selendang Ayu, Kailash Bhushan Singh, pleaded guilty in April 2005 to making a false statement during the casualty investigation regarding the time the engine was shut down before the grounding. Cohen said that the plea agreement addresses only IMC's criminal culpability and that the state and federal trustees continue to assess natural resource damages from the spill. The plea agreement does not limit IMC's civil liability. Source: AP

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