Tank Vessel Operator Found Guilty for Illegal Dump of Blige WasteFebruary 11, 2020, 3:55 PM HST (Updated February 11, 2020, 3:55 PM)
Tank vessel operator convicted of unlawful discharge of bilge waste, was sentenced to pay a $1.75 million fine.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore) PTE LTD. (“Bernhard”), a vessel operating company, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to one count of maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from the tank vessel Topaz Express.
US District Judge Derrick K. Watson accepted the guilty plea. Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and vessel Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan previously pleaded guilty to their involvement in the offense. Watson imposed a the fine of $1,75 million and a four-year term of probation.
“This is the largest fine ever imposed in the District of Hawai‘i for this type of offense,” according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office of Hawai‘i. “Bernhard further must implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan, which applies to all 38 tank vessels operated by the company that call on US ports.”
According to court documents and information presented in court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from the Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment. Bilge waste typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel.
The illegal discharges occurred on three separate occasions between May and July 2019. The defendants admitted the discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book, which is required by law. Bernhard, acting through Chief Engineer Reddy and Second Engineer Samirajan, 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.
During the US Coast Guard’s inspection of the Topaz Express, the release states, Reddy 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.
“The Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice is charged with enforcing federal and international laws designed to protect our oceans from pollutants,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Under those laws, Clark added, the vessel operators are required to either properly treat their bilge waste onboard before discharging it into the sea or offload their bilge waste to disposal facilities.
“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 Hawai‘i, 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,” Price said. “My office will continue to bring to justice companies that illegally discharge bilge waste into the ocean and then attempt to conceal their misconduct.”