BALTIMORE (Legal Newsline) - Two corporations have pleaded guilty for their role in managing and owning a ship engaged in deliberate discharges of waste oil and plastic garbage in Baltimore's harbor, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
The companies each were sentenced Wednesday to pay $1.2 million and serve three years of probation during which they will be required to implement a government-approved environmental plan that includes audits conducted by an independent firm and review by a court appointed monitor.
Efploia Shipping, a Marshall Islands corporation based in Greece, was the technical manager of a cargo ship, constructed in China and registered in Malta. Aquarosa Shipping, a company based in Denmark, was the owner of the vessel. Both corporations pleaded guilty to four felony counts: obstruction of justice, making material false statements, and the environmental crimes of knowingly failing to maintain an accurate oil record book and knowingly failing to maintain an accurate garbage record book, both in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
According to the DOJ, senior ship engineers started dumping oil contaminated bilge waste on the ship's very first voyage after it was completed in June 2010 in China. One method involved removing a mechanism inside a valve so waste could be pumped overboard. Another method involved a so-called "magic pipe" consisting of a long rubber hose and metal flanges welded together onboard. This pipe bypassed required pollution prevention equipment.
The investigation began after the U.S. Coast Guard a complaint from an engineer when the ship docked in Baltimore in February. The crew member provided 300 cell phone photographs showing how the magic pipe was used to discharge sludge and oily waste overboard. Plastic garbage bags containing oil soaked rags were also dumped overboard.
By international treaty, ships must maintain an oil record book and a garbage record book in which all such discharges are recorded. Both defendants admitted to deliberately falsifying these logs.
Both Efploia Shipping and Aquarosa Shipping were sentenced to pay a total of $1.2 million. The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation will receive a total of $550,000 from this sum for Chesapeake Bay projects.
"The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute the intentional dumping of oil and plastic from ships and falsification of ship records because they are serious crimes that threaten our precious ocean resources," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.
"The defendants dumped pollution into the ocean and falsified records to prevent the Coast Guard from learning about it," said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. "More than $500,000 of the penalty proceeds will fund conservation efforts for the Chesapeake Bay, our nation's largest and most diverse estuary."
"This case was resolved through excellent partnership between the regulatory and enforcement divisions of the U.S. Coast Guard, and also the dedicated pursuit of justice by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Department of Justice and EPA-CID" said Otis E. Harris Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, Coast Guard Investigative Service Chesapeake Region. "The Coast Guard Investigative Service is fully committed to investigating and resolving all criminal allegations of violations of environmental and regulatory statutes."
"The oceans must be protected from those who circumvent laws by dumping wastes improperly," said David G. McLeod, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Maryland. "The defendants in this case directed the discharge of oily waste and garbage from their vessel into open water, ordered ship records to be falsified and lied to conceal these crimes. Today's guilty pleas and sentences should send a strong message that we do not tolerate the flagrant violation of environmental laws and will work closely with our partners to vigorously prosecute those who despoil our environment."