Two shipping companies based in Egypt and Singapore pleaded guilty today in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and obstruction of justice for covering up the illegal dumping of oil-contaminated bilge water and garbage from one of their ships into the sea.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas, announced the plea agreement. The agreement includes a $1.9 million dollar penalty and requires marine and coastal restoration efforts at three National Wildlife Refuges located on the Gulf of Mexico in East Texas, where the offending vessel transited and made port stops.
“This case involved egregious violations of U.S. and international laws that are key to protecting the oceans from pollution, and deliberate efforts to mislead U.S. Coast Guard officials about these criminal acts,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “The Department of Justice will continue to aggressively prosecute criminal acts that pollute the oceans.”
“Intentional acts of pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas wetlands will not be tolerated, and violators such as defendants, Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, will be held responsible for their conduct,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas. “Our citizens depend on clean water for their recreation and their livelihood. This kind of irresponsible conduct threatens both.”
Defendants Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management are the owner and operator of the 57,920 gross ton, 809-foot long, ocean-going, oil tank ship called the M/T ETC MENA. Large ships like the M/T ETC MENA generate oil-contaminated bilge waste when water mixes in the bottom or bilges of the ship with oil that has leaked from the ship’s engines and other areas. This waste must be processed to separate the water from the oil and other wastes by using pollution prevention equipment, including an Oily Water Separator (OWS), before being discharged into the sea. These large ships also generate garbage, including ash from the incinerators, steel, and other non-organic wastes, which are collected in plastic bags and stored onboard until they can be disposed of properly at shore-side facilities. APPS requires that the disposal of the ship’s bilge waste and garbage be fully recorded in the ship’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book.
The investigation began on April 26, 2016, when the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur, Texas, received information from a crew member on the M/T ETC MENA that the ship had illegally dumped bilge waste overboard into the ocean. The crewmember provided a written statement, photographs, and video of the alleged conduct. During the inspection of the ship that same day, the Coast Guard found a pump covered in oil submerged in the ship’s bilge primary tank that looked similar to the pump that the crew member said was used to pump the bilge waste overboard.
“Environmental crimes put the marine environment and our natural resources at risk,” said Rear Admiral Dave Callahan, Commander, Eighth Coast Guard District. “This case serves as another example that the United States will not tolerate these actions and violators will be held accountable. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Department of Justice should be commended for their tireless efforts and cooperation in investigating and prosecuting this case.”
In pleading guilty, the companies admitted that its crew members bypassed the ships OWS and discharged bilge water into the ocean in March 2016 without it first passing through this pollution prevention equipment. The government’s investigation also revealed that crew members were instructed to throw plastic garbage bags filled with metal and incinerator ash into the sea in March 2016. The discharge of bilge water without using the OWS and of plastic garbage into the ocean was not entered into the ship’s Oil Record Book and Garbage Record Book in violation of APPS. The companies also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for presenting these false documents to the Coast Guard during the inspection in Port Arthur, Texas.
The companies will be placed on a four-year term of probation that includes a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to ensure, among other things, that all of ships operated by Thome Ship Management that come to the United States fully comply with all applicable marine environmental protection requirements established by national and international laws. The compliance plan will be implemented by an independent auditing company and supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph R. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas, Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe, and Trial Attorney John D. Cashman at the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice prosecuted the case. The case was investigated by the Coast Guard’s Investigative Service.