U.S. Illegal Oily Waste Dumping and Oil Record Book Offenses – Fines run into Millions

October 2012

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Image courtesy of USCG image gallery
Image courtesy of USCG image gallery

“… The U.S. relies on vessel crews and their management companies to provide accurate logs and records when calling on U.S. ports to ensure oily wastes are discharged properly at sea.  The U.S. is fully committed to prosecuting those cases where vessels cover-up improper oily waste discharges at sea through the use of falsified logs. …”

“… the U.S. government will not tolerate the flagrant violation of its laws. …”

These were statements made by the District Attorney and EPA Special Agent (respectively) acting in the first case reported below and which typify the approach of the enforcement agencies in dealing with deliberate oily waste dumping offenses and subsequent attempts to conceal them:

US $ 1,000,000 Fine for Oily Waste Discharge Offenses

“This significant criminal fine should send a message to shipping companies worldwide that those who pollute our oceans will be held accountable.”

So said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice in a case tried earlier this year involving a guilty plea to violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failure properly to maintain an oil record book as required by federal and international law, as well as making material false statements during a U.S. Coast Guard inspection.

Members of the crew discharged and caused the overboard discharge of oily bilge waste from the vessel on multiple occasions as it sailed from South Korea to Mobile between July and September 2012.  The discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required.  The deliberate overboard discharges of oily waste were accomplished through the ship’s fixed bilge piping system and by using the ship’s general service pump in a manner that intentionally bypassed required pollution prevention equipment, including the ship’s oily water separator and oil content monitor, designed to detect and prevent discharges containing more than 15 parts per million (ppm) oil, the international standard.  The bypass system used a “spool pipe” to connect the ship’s bilge system with the ship’s ballast system to make the illegal discharges from the vessel’s bilges and bilge holding tank.

The company was sentenced to pay a US $1 million criminal fine as well as a $200,000 community service payment to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. It was also sentenced to three years’ probation, a condition of which provided that ships operated or managed by the company that would or might call at U.S. ports must be subject to an environmental compliance plan supervised by outside auditors and the court.

U.S. Federal law and international law (MARPOL Annex 1) requires that all ships comply with pollution regulations that include the proper disposal of oily water and sludge by passing the oily water through a separator aboard the vessel or burning the sludge in the ship’s incinerator.  Ships are also required to record accurately each disposal of oily water or sludge in an oil record book and to have the record book available for U.S. Coast Guard inspection when the vessel is within the waters of the United States.

(Based on U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs Press Release of 30 May 2012)


Potential US$ 3,000,000 Fine for Owners and Custodial Sentence for Chief Engineer 

In another more recent case a company faces fines on several charges amounting to a total potential penalty of $3 million. The company’s primary chief engineer faces a custodial sentence of up to 20 years for obstruction of justice and six years for knowingly failing to maintain an accurate oil record book.

U.S. Coast Guard conducted a Port State Control examination on the vessel while entered in port at Pago Pago, American Samoa. The examination revealed that the vessel had been making false entries and omissions in its oil record book.

The company was convicted of numerous charges, including conspiracy and causing the vessel to enter to port with a falsified oil record book that failed to account accurately for how the vessel was managing its bilge waste and for obstruction of justice for falsely stating in the oil record book that required pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not.  There was also a conviction for discharging machinery space bilge waste into the port without using required pollution prevention equipment, including the oil water separator.

The chief engineer was convicted of failing to maintain an oil record book for the vessel that accurately accounted for how the vessel was managing its bilge waste.  He was additionally convicted of obstruction of justice for falsely stating in the oil record book that required pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not. 

Sentence is due within the next few weeks and this article will be updated as soon as further information becomes available.    

(Based on U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs Press Release of August 15 2012)