The US Department of Justice announced that the Chief Engineer of a foreign flagged vessel was sentenced to prison for deliberately discharging approximately 10,000 gallons of oil-contaminated bilge water overboard in U.S. waters off the coast of New Orleans last year, and for obstructing justice.
he illegal conduct was first reported to the Coast Guard by a crew member via social media. The Honorable Nannette Jolivette Brown sentenced the Chief Engineer to serve a year and a day in prison, pay a $5,000 fine and $200 special assessment and serve six months of supervised release.
Repair operations to correct a problem with the discharge of clean ballast water resulted in engine room flooding. After the leak was controlled, the Chief Engineer and a subordinate engineer dumped the oily bilge water overboard while the ship was at an anchorage near the Southwest Passage off the Louisiana coast.
The ship’s required pollution prevention devices – an oily-water separator and oil content monitor – were not used, and the discharge was not recorded in the Oil Record Book, a required ship log.
The Chief Engineer was also charged with obstruction of justice based on various efforts to conceal the illegal discharge. In a joint factual statement filed in Court with his guilty plea, the Chief Engineer admitted to the following acts of obstruction of justice:
- Making false statements to the Coast Guard that concealed the cause and nature of a hazardous condition, and concealing that the engine room of the vessel had flooded and that oil-contaminated bilge water had been discharged overboard;
- Destroying the computer alarm printouts for the period of the illegal discharge that were sought by the Coast Guard;
- Holding meetings with subordinate crew members and directing them to make false statements to the Coast Guard;
- Making a false Oil Record Book that failed to disclose the illegal discharge;
- Directing subordinate engine room employees to delete all evidence from their cell phones in anticipation of the Coast Guard inspection;
- Preparing a retaliatory document accusing the whistleblower of poor performance as part of an effort to discredit him.
The intentional pollution of U.S. waters and the deliberate cover-up are serious criminal offenses that will not be tolerated. Prosecutions such as this one should send a clear message to those that would violate the law and endanger our precious natural resources
said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.