The chief engineer of an oil tanker that transports petroleum products to and from various ports in the United States and abroad pleaded guilty today to submitting false documents to the U.S. Coast Guard in an effort to cover up the illegal dumping of thousands of gallons of waste oil and sludge at sea, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.
The captain of the vessel also pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden to conspiracy in connection with his effort to conceal evidence and solicit false statements from a lower-level engineer during the Coast Guard boarding of the ship in the Port of Carteret on Sept. 10, Christie said.
The ship, the Motor Tanker Guadalupe, is owned and operated by wholly owned subsidiaries of OMI Corporation, which has headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The tanker made port calls in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America
, 41, an Indian national, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information, charging that he made and used false writings and documents in matters within the jurisdiction of the United States, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas S. Acker
. Mani was the Chief Engineer of the M.T. Guadalupe from approximately May to September 2001, Acker said.
Ashok Kumar, 44, also an Indian national, pleaded guilty to a one-count Information, charging that he conspired to make and use such false writings and documents, according to Trial Attorney Christopher J. Costantini of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section. Kumar was the Captain, or Master, of the Guadalupe from July to September 2001, according to Costantini.
Mani and Kumar each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Ships such as the Guadalupe generate waste oil and sludge in the process of purifying the heavy fuel oil that is used to power the ship, and from other processes, according to the Informations. Like other ships, the Guadalupe was equipped with a system for processing this waste oil and sludge. Under this system, the waste oil and sludge is supposed to be burned in an on-board incinerator or off-loaded to shore or barge disposal facilities, Acker said.
In addition, the Guadalupe was equipped with an "oily water separator" system designed to process oily water that collects in the lowermost compartments of the ship, also called "bilges." Through the use of this system, processed water with a concentration of less than 15 parts per million of oil is designed to be discharged into the sea; the remainder of the oily bilge water is supposed to be sent to the system for processing waste oil and sludge.
The United States is a party to a multinational treaty known as the "MARPOL" treaty, whose purpose is to prevent pollution from ships. It is a violation of MARPOL to discharge oil or oily substances from vessels into waters of treaty countries or the high seas except through specialized equipment that is designed to separate the oil from water.
Under MARPOL and U.S. law, ships such as the Guadalupe that enter U.S. waters are required to maintain an "Oil Record Book" and other records relating to the handling of oil produced in the engine room.
When such ships are in U.S. waters, the U.S. Coast Guard has the authority to board the ships to conduct inspections to ensure compliance with MARPOL and other U.S. laws. In conducting these inspections, the Coast Guard relies on a ship's documents, including Oil Record Books, and on statements of crew members.
Mani admitted to Judge Hayden that he authorized ship engineers to continue a practice begun under his predecessor of bypassing the incinerator and oily water separator system on the Guadalupe and discharging waste oil, sludge and oily-water mixtures directly into the high seas in violation of MARPOL, according to Acker. Mani admitted that approximately 20 such discharges, in amounts of several cubic meters each, took place during various voyages of the ship between and among ports in the Eastern United States
, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, Acker said.
In an effort to conceal these discharges of waste oil and sludge, Mani made false and fraudulent entries in the Oil Record Book and other records relating to the handling and discharge of waste oil and sludge, he admitted today.
When the Coast Guard boarded the ship in Carteret on Sept. 10 to conduct an inspection, Mani presented the false Oil Record Book and other false records to the Coast Guard inspectors, he admitted.
When he learned that Coast Guard inspectors were about to board the ship, Mani told Captain Kumar that engineers had been using a bypass hose to illegally dump oily-water mixtures into the sea, according to statements made in Court. Once he learned that illegal discharges had taken place, Captain Kumar participated in efforts to cover up what had happened, he admitted today.
Both Captain Kumar and Chief Engineer Mani attempted to have engineers hide the bypass hose and flanges that had been used to do the illegal pumping, they both admitted. In addition, they both participated in efforts to have engineers lie to the Coast Guard about what they knew about the illegal pumping, they admitted.
Under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, Judge Hayden will determine the actual sentences based on a formula that takes into account the severity and characteristics of the offenses and the defendants' criminal histories, if any.
Parole has been abolished in the federal system. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, defendants who are given custodial terms must serve nearly all that time.
Both Mani and Kumar were released on unsecured appearance bonds of $100,000 pending sentencings scheduled for Sept. 16. Under the terms of their release, they will be allowed to return to India but will be required to check in regularly with the U.S. Probation Office and will be required to return to the United States if and when requested by the United States.
Christie credited Special Agents of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, under the direction of Richard P. Deroche, Special Agent in Charge of the Northeast Region; EPA's Region II Criminal Investigation Division, Trenton office, under the direction of William V. Lometti, Special Agent in Charge; and Special Agents of the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, under the Special Agent in Charge Ned Schwartz, with developing the case against these defendants.
The Government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Acker of the U.S. Attorney's Fraud and Public Protection Division in Newark and by Trial Attorney Costantini of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section in Washington.