The US also lodged a partial settlement to resolve the claims against the two company managers, Hanh Nguyen, and Khang Dang, who have agreed to pay $475,000 in civil penalties and reimbursements. The managers also committed to performing operational improvements and other compliance measures to their fleet of 25 longline fishing vessels based in Honolulu. The claims against the rest of the defendants remain for future adjudication.
The complaint alleges five causes of action against six defendants: Azure Fishery LLC, company managers Nguyen and Dang, company member and prior owner Tuan Hoang, vessel operator Andy Hoang and current owner Linh Fishery LLC. The complaint alleges willful discharges of oil, including oily bilge water, from the commercial longline fishing vessel Jaxon T, now known as the St. Joseph, into the ocean offshore of Hawaii.
In addition it includes violations of USCG’s spill prevention and pollution control regulations, including failure to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily mixtures on board. The complaint further alleges that to extend the length of fishing voyages, the defendants routinely pumped a combination of fuel oil, lubricating oils, water, and other fluids from the vessel’s engine room bilge into the Pacific Ocean rather than retain the waste on board. The United States alleges that Azure Fishery LLC and the company managers and vessel operator are each liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act for discharging oily mixtures into the waters off Hawaii. The US also seeks injunctive relief from these same defendants and Linh Fishery LLC, the current owner of the vessel.
What is more, the complaint further alleges that company managers Nguyen and Dang fraudulently transferred the vessel to the current owner, Linh Fishery LLC, shortly after the USCG discovered the violations in March 2017.
Because the sale of the vessel and distribution of the proceeds to company members rendered Azure Fishery LLC insolvent and thus otherwise unable to pay a civil penalty, the complaint seeks recovery of the value of the fraudulently transferred vessel from the beneficiaries of the transfer, Linh Fishery LLC, Hanh Thi Nguyen, Khang Nguyen Dang, and Tuan Ngog Hoang, under the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act.
As a result, the US has lodged a partial consent decree addressing the claims against company managers Nguyen and Dang. Under the settlement, Nguyen and Dang will each pay $211,000 for the Clean Water Act penalty claims against them, and they will jointly pay an additional $53,000 for their apportioned share of the fraudulent transfer claim under the FDCPA.
Moreover, they will perform corrective measures across their fleet of 25 Hawaii-based longline fishing vessels. The corrective actions are designed to ensure safe and lawful operations going forward and include:
- Repairing the vessels to reduce the quantity of oily waste generated during a fishing voyage;
- Obtaining independent verification of repairs;
- Providing crewmembers with training on the proper handling of oily wastes;
- Documenting proper oily waste retention during voyages and disposal after returning to port;
- Submitting periodic compliance assurance reports to the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice.