The former chief engineer
of an American-flagged car-carrier pleaded guilty to criminal charges
related to the deliberate discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste through
a "magic pipe" that bypassed required pollution prevention equipment,
announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew J. McKeown for the
Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S.
Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
Frank Coe, the former chief engineer of the M/V Fidelio (renamed the
M/V Patriot) pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violating the Act to
Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) before U.S. District Judge William M.
Nickerson. Coe was employed by Pacific Gulf Marine Inc. (PGM), a vessel
operator based in Gretna, La., that previously pleaded guilty to its role
in deliberately discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of
oil-contaminated bilge waste from
four of its giant car-carrier ships,
including the Fidelio. PGM was sentenced on Jan. 24, 2007, to pay $1
million in criminal fines and $500,000 in community service, and serve
three years of probation under the terms of an environmental compliance
plan which will be audited by a court-appointed monitor.
During a March 29, 2003, inspection, Coast Guard inspectors in
Baltimore lifted a deckplate and found a permanently installed bypass pipe
on the Fidelio that was part of the ship's original construction. The Coast
Guard directed the removal of the bypass pipe - referred to by some in the
maritime industry as a "magic pipe" - and found that it was filled with
black oil, according to a factual statement filed in court. Coe was the
Chief Engineer of the ship on that day and falsely denied any knowledge of
the existence or use of the bypass although it had been used since 1998.
The ship's oil record book, a required log in which all overboard
discharges must be recorded, had been falsified to conceal illegal
discharges made without the use of an oily water separator, a required
pollution prevention device that Coe admitted was "rarely if ever used."
Coe also continued to bypass the oily water separator using a new bypass
method after the Coast Guard discovered and removed the bypass pipe,
according to papers filed in court.
Engine room operations on board large ocean-going vessels generate
large amounts of waste oil and oil-contaminated bilge waste. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste containing more than 15 parts per million oil and without treatment by an oil water separator and oil sensing equipment. The regime, established by the MARPOL Convention (Annex I) - a treaty signed by more than 135 countries representing approximately
97.5% of the world's commercial tonnage and implemented into U.S. law by
the APPS - also requires that overboard discharges be recorded in an oil
Coe is the third chief engineer to plead guilty in the continuing
investigation. Deniz Sharpe, who served as chief engineer of the M/V
Fidelio after Coe, pleaded guilty on March 7, 2007, to violating the APPS
involving continuing illegal conduct after the Coast Guard had removed the
bypass pipe from the ship. Stephen Karas, the former chief engineer of the
M/V Tanabata (renamed the M/V Resolve) pleaded guilty to conspiracy and
making false statements on March 29, 2007.
Another chief engineer of the Tanabata remains under indictment and the investigation is continuing. An indictment represents allegations brought by a grand jury. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.