A vessel operating company has been fined by the US Department of Justice to pay the amount of $1,750,000 and serve a 4-year term of probation for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from the tank vessel Topaz Express, a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
Specifically, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore) PTE LTD’s chief engineer and second engineer pleaded guilty of being involved in federal court.
It is reported that the fine is the largest ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offense. In addition, the company has to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan, which applies to all 38 vessels operated by the company that call on U.S. ports.
Based on the information presented at the court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from the Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment. Furthermore, the defendants admitted that the illegal actions were not recorded at the vessel’s oil record book, as it is required by law.
Specifically, on three separate occasions between May and July 2019, Bernhard, acting through Chief Engineer and Second Engineer, its employees, used a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass the ship’s pollution prevention equipment and discharge bilge waste directly into the ocean. They then failed to record the improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.
Moreover, it was revealed that during USCG’s inspection of the Topaz Express the Chief Engineer destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged overboard without being processed through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment.
In light of this incident, U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price commented that
Prosecutions like this one are important because, by holding companies accountable for the harm they cause to the ocean’s ecosystem, we do our part to protect the planet and its finite resources. In Hawaii, we are surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and companies that intentionally damage the ocean’s ecosystem must be held accountable for their criminal conduct.
This incident is not a first; The US Department of Justice has many times fined companies for falsely reporting or not reporting at all oil record books. For instance, the US Department of Justice fined two shipping companies, incorporated in Liberia, for failing to notify the USCG of a hazardous condition on one of their vessels and to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) by presenting false documents to the Coast Guard that covered up vessel oil pollution.