Ship Officers Charged in Oil Discharge Cover Up
A federal grand jury in Greenville, North Carolina, has returned a nine-count indictment charging two engineering officers employed by Oceanfleet Shipping Limited with crimes relating to the illegal discharge of oily wastes directly into the sea, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Oceanfleet Shipping Limited is a Greek shipping company that operates the cargo carrier M/V Ocean Hope. The two engineering officers indicted are the vessel’s Chief Engineer, Rustico Yabut Ignacio; and Second Engineer, Cassius Flores Samson, bolth of the Philippines.
According to the indictment, in 2015 Samson bypassed pollution prevention equipment with an unauthorized hose connection, or “magic pipe,” to discharge oil sludge generated by the M/V Ocean Hope directly into the sea. Samson also ordered crewmembers on numerous other occasions to pump oily mixtures from the vessel’s bilges into the sea using the ship’s General Service Pump rather than processing these mixtures through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment.
The operation of marine vessels like the M/V Ocean Hope generates large quantities of waste oil and oil-contaminated waste water. International and U.S. law requires that these vessels use pollution prevention equipment to preclude the discharge of these materials. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. To hide the illegal discharges, Ignacio and Samson allegedly maintained a fictitious oil record book that failed to record the disposal, transfer, or overboard discharge of oil from the vessel.The oil record book also contained false entries stating that pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not.
The indictment further alleges Ignacio and Samson ordered subordinate crewmembers to lie to the U.S. Coast Guard during an inspection in Wilmington, North Carolina. The crewmembers were allegedly instructed to deny knowledge of the connection of the pipe used discharge sludge and to tell the Coast Guard that Oily Water Separator had been used as required under international law to process oily mixtures before discharge when they knew it had not.
Both engineering officers were charged with violating the federal Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to record overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book, conspiracy for their agreement to violate federal law, obstruction of justice for presenting false documents intended to deceive the Coast Guard and witness tampering for ordering subordinate crewmembers to mislead and lie to the Coast Guard. Samson was also charged with false statements and obstruction of justice for lying to Coast Guard inspectors about the discharges. An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Sector North Carolina, investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorneys Shane N. Waller and Brendan Selby with the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.