05 December 2023
Greek-based shipping companies Empire Bulkers Limited and Joanna Maritime Limited received orders to pay $2 million ($1 million each) over violations of pollution acts in the U.S.
The two companies received convictions for knowing and willful violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and the Ports and Waterways Safety Act related to their role as the operator and owner of the Motor Vessel (M/V) Joanna.
What is the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS)?
The APPS is a U.S. law that implements the provisions of MARPOL. APPS applies to all U.S.-flagged ships anywhere in the world. Moreover, to all foreign-flagged vessels operating in navigable waters of the U.S. or while at port under U.S. jurisdiction. Under MARPOL, ships must conform to specific standards regarding the stowing, handling, shipping, and transferring of pollutant cargoes, as well as standards for the discharge of ship-generated operational wastes.
The Coast Guard has the primary responsibility to prescribe and enforce regulations necessary to implement APPS in these waters. The regulatory mechanism established in APPS to implement MARPOL is separate and distinct from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws.
The prosecution stems from a March 2022 inspection in New Orleans that revealed that required pollution prevention equipment had been tampered with. Hence, allow fresh water to trick the sensor, designed to detect the oil content of bilge waste to discharge overboard. The ship’s oil record book had been falsified to conceal the improper discharges.
During the same inspection, the Coast Guard also discovered an unreported safety hazard. Inspectors found an active fuel oil leak in the engine room. Particularly, where the pressure relief valves on the fuel oil heaters had been disabled. This is a critical safety device necessary to prevent an explosion.
In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that the plugging of the relief valves in the fuel oil purifier room and the large volume of oil leaking from the pressure relief valve presented hazardous conditions that had not been immediately reported to the Coast Guard in violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act. In case of a fire or explosion in the purifier room, it could have been catastrophic. Resulting in the loss of propulsion, loss of life, and pollution, according to a joint factual statement filed in court.
“Make no mistake, willful tampering with required pollution control equipment and falsifying official ship logs to conceal illegal discharges are serious criminal offenses… In concealing major safety problems from the Coast Guard, the defendants here not only violated the law, but also recklessly risked the lives of the crew and the environment.”Todd Kim, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment & Natural Resources Division
The two related Greek-based shipping companies also received a sentence to serve 4 years of probation subject to the terms of a government-approved environmental compliance plan.
Source: Department of Justice