Ship’s Operator, Captain, And Chief Engineer Admit To Environmental Crimes Aboard A Rhode Island-Bound Oil Tanker
The Greek company that owned and operated the Galissas: a tanker carrying diesel oil from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to Providence, RI, in February 2022, pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island to federal environmental crimes carried out by its captain and chief engineer. In addition, the vessel’s captain pled guilty to failing to report a hazardous condition in the vessel’s cargo tanks to the United States Coast Guard prior to the tanker entering the port of Newport, Rhode Island.
The vessel’s chief engineer pled guilty to knowingly discharging untreated oily bilge water directly from the tanker into the sea during the transatlantic voyage.
During proceedings in U.S. District Court in Providence, Zeus Lines Management S.A., (Zeus) owner/operator of the Gallissas, admitted violating The Ports and Waterways Safety Act and The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The Galissas’ captain Jose Ervin Mahinge Porquez, a resident of the Philippines, admitted to violating The Ports and Waterways Safety Act. The Galissas’ Chief Engineer Roberto Cayabyab Penaflor, also a resident of the Philippines, admitted violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
Under the terms of the plea agreement Zeus will pay a total monetary penalty of $2.25 million, consisting of a fine of $1,687,500 and a community service payment of $562,500. The community service payment will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects to benefit marine and coastal natural resources located in the State of Rhode Island. Additionally, Zeus will serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement a robust environmental compliance plan.
“A critical mission of this office is protecting our environment from pollution and polluters, whether they impact our neighborhoods or precious natural resources like the Narragansett Bay, one of the crown jewels of Rhode Island,” said United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island Zachary A. Cunha.
“In this case, a foreign company decided it could ignore its obligation under American law, putting our waters and coastal communities at risk. Today’s guilty pleas are a reminder that this Office will enforce our environmental laws to hold violators – individuals and corporate – accountable and protect our vital natural resources and our citizenry.”
“This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of the marine environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The reckless actions of these defendants not only threatened the marine environment, but also the safety of this coastal community. The Department of Justice will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure those who pollute and endanger our coastal communities are held fully accountable.”
“This case demonstrates the U.S. government’s resolve to ensure the safety of life at sea and protect our ports from rogue and negligent actors,” said Rear Adm. John Mauger, Commander of the First Coast Guard District. “Everyday thousands of ships safely call on U.S. ports and handle nearly 95% of US trade that drives our economy and provides for our national security.
By sailing into a major U.S. port with a known faulty inert gas generator, the operator, and senior officers of the Galissas endangered not only their shipmates but also the people of Rhode Island. The Coast Guard will continue to train and deploy our vessel examiners to protect mariners and our nations ports by deterring and detecting unsafe and illegal activity. We appreciate the strong resolve from DOJ in holding these rogue actors accountable.”
According to information presented in court, while the Galissas was conducting cargo operations in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in February 2022, crew members became aware that the vessel’s inert gas system became inoperable. The inert gas system is necessary to ensure that oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks remain at safe levels and do not pose a hazardous condition.
Rather than remaining in Rotterdam until the inert gas system could be repaired, Zeus and the ship’s captain, Porquez, decided to instead sail to the United States, where a spare part would be delivered upon the vessel’s arrival. On February 11, 2022, while crossing the Atlantic, Porquez submitted a “Notice of Arrival” to the U.S. Coast Guard which failed to report the hazardous condition.
On February 15, 2022, the Coast Guard sent an email in preparation for inspection which inquired about the vessel’s inert gas system. Porquez responded to the email but did not disclose the inoperable inert gas system. Upon arrival off the coast of Rhode Island February 19, 2022, the vessel embarked a local ship’s pilot to sail the vessel closer to shore and take delivery of the spare part. Although the crew installed the spare part, the inert gas system remained inoperable. Porquez failed to report to the Coast Guard the hazardous condition that the vessel’s inert gas system was inoperable while the tanks were not gas free.
The following day, February 20, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the Galissas to conduct an inspection. Only then did Porquez inform the Coast Guard that the inert gas system was inoperable. The Coast Guard immediately took measurements of the oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks, which were registered more than double the maximum allowable levels. The Coast Guard then ordered that the vessel be moved further offshore so as to not endanger the port of Newport, Rhode Island.
Zeus’ Operations Manager directed Porquez to create a logbook showing oxygen levels during the transatlantic voyage. Porquez had a logbook created that falsely indicated the cargo tanks were at safe oxygen levels when the vessel left the Netherlands and remained at safe levels during the majority of the vessel’s transit of the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, the crew had not taken any readings of the oxygen levels in the cargo tanks during the vessel’s voyage. Porquez had tasked the vessel’s Chief Officer with creating this fraudulent logbook that was then presented to the U.S. Coast Guard during its inspection.
Additionally, Zeus and chief engineer Penaflor admitted that throughout the transatlantic voyage, oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Galissas directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. They also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law.
Specifically, on three separate occasions between November 2021 and February 2022, Penaflor ordered crew members working for him in the engine room to discharge a total of approximately 9,544 gallons of oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank directly into the ocean using the vessel’s emergency fire pump, bypassing the vessel’s required pollution prevention equipment.
In addition, in preparation for the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the Galissas, Penaflor instructed crew members on several occasions to not tell the Coast Guard about bypassing the pollution prevention equipment resulting in illegal discharges.
A sentencing hearing in this matter is scheduled to be held on August 8, 2023. The defendants’ sentences will be determined by a federal judge after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. McAdams for the District of Rhode Island are prosecuting the case with assistance from Lieutenant Commander Paul J. Milliken from the U.S. Coast Guard District One Legal Office. The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case.