Shipping Company and Chief Engineer Plead Guilty

Friday, May 10, 2002
Ionia Management, S.A. ("Ionia"), a Greek shipping company with offices in Piraeus, Greece, and Christos Kostakis, chief engineer aboard the M/T (Motor Tanker) Alkyon, a commercial oil and chemical tanker operated by IONIA, pled guilty to covering-up ocean dumping of waste oil by making false entries in a ship log and presenting that log to the United States Coast Guard in the course of an inspection required before docking at a United States port. The guilty pleas were entered in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, before United States District Judge Allyne R. Ross.

According to the felony information filed, the Alkyon, like other large ships, produce waste oil from operation of its engineering machinery. Much of this waste oil accumulates in the bottom, or "bilges," of ships' engine rooms. During routine operation, ships accumulate too much oily bilge water to carry from port to port. Because waste oil is an environmental hazard, the Alkyon, like other similar ships, is equipped with a pollution-prevention device known as an oil-water separator. An oil-water separator processes a ship's oily bilge water by separating water containing no more than fifteen parts of oil per million and discharging that water overboard. When an oil-water separator detects water containing more than fifteen parts of oil per million, an alarm sounds and the oily water is prevented from being discharged overboard. The oil residue produced by the oil-water separator is stored aboard the ship for proper disposal in port, or is burned in a ships' incinerator. An oil-water separator requires regular maintenance, cleaning, and replacement of filters.

Pursuant to federal law, the Alkyon was required to maintain an oil record book, a ship log in which use of the oil-water separator, discharges of processed water, and disposal of oily water are required to be recorded. The ship's chief engineer is responsible for operating the ship's oil-water separator and maintaining and recording information in the oil record book. On or about January 8, 2002, as the Alkyon was on a trans-Atlantic voyage to New York Harbor carrying a cargo of lubrication oil and xylene, an industrial chemical, the Alkyon's shipping agent requested the United States Coast Guard to inspect the Alkyon upon its arrival and certify the ship's compliance with applicable laws and regulations. An inspection by the Coast Guard and such certification is required by United States law before a foreign ship may operate in United States waters, dock in United States ports, and unload cargo. Upon arrival in New York, the Alkyon anchored off Staten Island and was boarded by Coast Guard officers who conducted the required inspection. The inspection established that piping had been manipulated so that the Alkyon's oil-water separator could be bypassed, and that oily bilge water had been discharged directly into the sea. Pursuant to federal law, a foreign ship's deliberate bypass of an oil-water separator on the high seas is grounds for the Coast Guard to bar the ship from entering United States waters and docking at United States ports. When a Coast Guard officer asked crew members if they used a "bypass pipe" to evade the oil-water separator, Chief Engineer CHRISTOS KOSTAKIS produced a pipe and stated that it was used only for emergencies. The Coast Guard then inspected the Alkyon's oil record book and found that KOSTAKIS's entries indicated that all of the Alkyon's oily bilge water had been properly processed by the Alkyon's oil-water separator from as early as October 2001 until the date of the Alkyon's arrival in New York, and that the oil-water separator had not been bypassed in any emergency or for any other reason. KOSTAKIS, a Greek citizen, waived indictment and pled guilty to a one-count information charging him with knowingly and willfully making materially false entries in the Alkyon's oil record book and presenting that book to the United States Coast Guard. IONIA, through its attorney Owen Duffy, waived indictment and pled guilty to the same charge. When sentenced by Judge Ross, KOSTAKIS faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a fine of $500,000, or twice the gain derived from the offense. IONIA faces a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gain derived from the offense. Pursuant to the government's plea agreement with IONIA, the parties agreed to recommend to the sentencing judge that the total fine imposed be payable to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a charitable and nonprofit corporation established by Congress for the purpose of promoting the conservation of the environmental resources of the United States. In addition, pursuant to the plea agreement, IONIA agreed to reimburse the government for its expenses incurred in prosecuting the case, estimated to be $35,000. IONIA also agreed to provide the Coast Guard Investigative Service in New York with a Compliance Checklist for the Proper Care and Disposal of Oily Waste no later than four days before any of its ships arrives at any port in the United States. The checklist requires IONIA to certify that each arriving ship has been properly processing and disposing of its waste oil. Before sentencing, IONIA must submit a written proposal, subject to the government's approval, for a comprehensive self-monitoring compliance program to help ensure IONIA's compliance with United States laws regulating the handling, treatment, and disposal of waste oil aboard ships operated by IONIA in United States waters. A sentencing date has not been scheduled. Nick D. Swanstrom, Director, Criminal Investigation Division, United States Environmental Protection Agency stated: "The pollution deliberately caused in this case and the attempt to cover it up are unacceptable. We will continue to work closely with the United States Attorney's Office, the Coast Guard and the FBI to investigate these types of crimes vigorously and hold accountable those responsible." FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Kevin DONOVAN stated: "As part of the FBI's mission to protect the public safety is the vigorous enforcement of the environmental laws of the United States. Shipping companies, both foreign and domestic, are on notice that the government of the United States takes seriously its obligation to protect our natural resources." The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew J. Frisch.

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