WASHINGTON – Greek-based shipping companies Chian Spirit Maritime Enterprises, Inc. and Venetico Marine each pleaded guilty today in District court in Delaware to a felony violation related to the operation of the M/V Irene E.M., a large bulk carrier. Chian Spirit, the carrier owner, and Venetico, the carrier operator, admitted to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) by misleading U.S. Coast Guard investigators during the vessel’s port call to the United States in December 2005. The companies were sentenced by the Court to pay a total criminal penalty of $1.25 million dollars and to implement a detailed, court-monitored Environmental Compliance Plan.
According to the plea agreement, on December 5, 2005, the Irene requested entry into the Delaware Bay, en route to Newark, N.J. During the Coast Guard’s routine boarding, officers aboard the Irene provided Coast Guard investigators with a false log book that omitted required entries of overboard oily waste discharges made during the recent voyages.
Further investigation revealed that the vessel’s oil water separator had been inoperable for several months during the previous year. A vessel crew member testified that the ship illegally discharged waste oil into the ocean approximately four times per week into the open ocean. Most of these discharges took place at night or far from shore during trips to various ports, from Africa to Brazil, and from Brazil to the United States, so as to avoid detection. These illegal discharges were either recorded in the ship’s log inaccurately as having been “discharged through the oil water separator” or were not recorded at all. The Irene’s engineers also constructed a bypass pipe, often referred to as the “magic pipe,” which was also hidden from investigators during Coast Guard boardings.
“Companies that illegally and intentionally pollute our oceans violate the law and harm one of our most precious and vulnerable natural resources,” said David M. Uhlmann, Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department will continue to prosecute companies who fail to comply with the laws that protect our environment from illegal pollution.”
Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels such as the Irene generate large amounts of waste oil. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste oil without treatment by an oil water separator. The law also requires that all overboard discharges be recorded in an oil record book, a required log which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.
As part of the plea agreement, the corporations will pay a combined penalty of $1.25 million, $250,000 of which will be dedicated to a marine-based environmental enhancement community service project on the Delaware Bay.
In a related case, the Chief Engineer of the Irene, Adrien Dragomir, pleaded guilty in August 2006 to one APPS violation for falsifying the Irene’s oil record book. He was sentenced to serve a one-year term of unsupervised probation. Grigore Manolache, the ship’s master, pleaded guilty in July 2006 to a one-count information charging him with presenting false information to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the vessel’s illegal dumping.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division. This case was prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.