News and Press Releases

THREE INDIVIDUALS AND A CORPORATION CONVICTED IN AN OIL POLLUTION CONSPIRACY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 27, 2010

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Rear Admiral William D. Baumgartner, Commander, 7th Coast Guard District, and Jonathan Sall, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, announced the convictions today of defendants Hugo Pena, 45, of Miami, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc., of Miami, Ronald Ramon, 45, of Honduras, and Northon Eraso, 66, of Colombia, in an oil pollution conspiracy case tried before U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas.

Specifically, the jury convicted Pena and HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. of one count of failing to conduct a complete oil pollution prevention survey of the cargo ship ISLAND EXPRESS I, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a), and one count of false official statement, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The jury convicted Ramon of one count of conspiring to fail to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and seventeen counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a). The jury convicted Eraso of one count of conspiring to fail to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and twenty-five counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a).

According to the evidence admitted at trial, Ramon was the Master of a 155-foot cargo freighter called the M/V ISLAND EXPRESS I. Eraso was its Chief Engineer. Hugo Pena and his company HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. were the ship’s classification surveyors. On May 4, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered that the ship’s Oil Water Separator was broken. Under the leadership of Ramon and Eraso, the ship’s crew pumped the ship’s oily waste into the ocean from as early as February 7, 2010, until the Coast Guard’s arrival on board. Ramon and Eraso further concealed these discharges of oily waste by falsifying the ship’s logs. Additionally, the Coast Guard discovered that on April 15, 2010, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. and Pena went on board the M/V ISLAND EXPRESS I to survey its oil pollution prevention equipment. Despite the fact that the ship’s Oil Water Separator was broken, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. and Pena issued a required certificate for the ship that certified that the ship’s pollution prevention equipment was adequate.

On July 16, 2010, in a related but separate criminal information, Coastal Maritime Shipping, LLC, a Fort Lauderdale-based shipping company, also pled guilty to two counts of failure to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a). U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn later sentenced Coastal Shipping Holding to a $350,000 fine and three years’ probation. Judge Cohn also ordered Coastal Shipping Holding to make a $350,000 community service payment. The payment will fund environmental projects and initiatives designed for the benefit, preservation, and restoration of the environment and ecosystems in the waters of South Florida. Coastal Shipping Holding previously pled guilty to two counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book on board the M/V Island Express I.

Sentencing for Pena, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc., Ramon, and Eraso is scheduled on December 3, 2010. Pena, Ramon and Eraso are facing maximum possible sentences of six years’ imprisonment. HP Maritime Consultant, Inc. is facing a maximum possible sentence of $500,000 fine.

The conviction of Pena and HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. represents the first criminal case brought against a classification surveyor for failure to fulfill to its pollution prevention responsibilities in the United States.

Mr. Ferrer commended investigative efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Services. This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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