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Thursday, April 22, 2010
Ship Crew Member Pleads Guilty for Obstruction of U.S. Coast Guard Pollution Investigation

The chief engineer of a cargo vessel registered in the Republic of Panama pleaded guilty in federal court in Corpus Christi, Texas, for obstructing a U.S. Coast Guard investigation into the illegal overboard discharge of polluted wastewater as well as failing to keep accurate pollution control records, the Justice Department announced today.

John Porunnolil Zacharias, the chief engineer of the M/V Lowlands Sumida, a 37,689 gross ton bulk carrier cargo ship, pleaded guilty yesterday to a violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution (APPS) for failing to maintain an oil record book and to an obstruction violation for providing inspectors with a false engine room sounding log, and for altering a center fuel oil tank by installing a "dummy" sounding tube to conceal the contents of the tank

Zacharias, as the chief engineer, was responsible for the supervision of the engineering officers, the fitter and the motormen working in the engine spaces of the Lowlands Sumida. He was also responsible for assuring that the oil record book accurately recorded the handling of oily waste on the ship including the processing of oily waste water through the ship’s oil-water separator and the operation and maintenance of the oil-water separator.

On Oct. 6, 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a port inspection of the Lowlands Sumida.   During the inspection they received information from one of the crewmen alleging that a chief  engineer was using the center fuel tank to store oily waste water and that the waste water was then discharged overboard by tricking the oil content meter on the ship’s oil water separator.

Zacharias admitted to the altering of a center fuel oil tank through the installation of a "dummy" sounding tube.  The "dummy" sounding tube would show the tank as empty when measured, even though there was liquid in the tank. 

Large commercial ships, such as the Lowlands Sumida, are required by APPS to maintain a record known as the oil record book to document the movement, tank to tank, and the disposal of, all oil that has originated in the engineering spaces on the ship. Oily bilge waste waters, which accumulate in the lower-most part of the ship, can only be discharged overboard if the wastes are processed through a machine known as an "oil water separator" which ensures that the water discharged overboard contains no more than 15 parts per million (ppm) of oil. Zacharias admitted to discharging oily waste water that exceeded the 15 ppm limit from the ship and not recording the discharges in the oil record book.

Zacharias is scheduled to be sentenced on July 7, 2010.

The case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division in Region VI and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

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Environment and Natural Resources Division
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