New Bedford Fishing Companies, Manager, and Vessel Captain to Pay Over $400,000 in Civil Penalties and Make Fleet-Wide Fixes to Settle U.S. Oil-Pollution Claims
Coast Guard’s and Department of Justice’s Enforcement Action Addresses Oil Discharges in New Bedford Harbor and Coastal Southeastern New England
Challenge Fisheries LLC, Quinn Fisheries Inc., Charles Quinn II, and Charles Quinn III have agreed to pay a total of $414,000 in civil penalties and to perform fleet-wide improvements and other compliance assurance measures to resolve federal Clean Water Act claims stemming from oily bilge discharges from the commercial fishing vessel Challenge, and a related fuel oil discharge in August 2017 in New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts, the Department of Justice and the Coast Guard announced today.
In its complaint filed today, along with the lodging of a consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the United States alleges that the companies and individuals are liable for violations of the Clean Water Act related to the Challenge’s operations in New Bedford Harbor and in coastal waters off of southeastern New England. The complaint addresses discharges of oily bilge waste from the vessel while in port and at sea harvesting scallops, and the release of approximately 100 barrels (4,200 gallons) of fuel oil in connection with the illegal overboard pumping of oily bilge water in August 2017. The complaint also includes a Clean Water Act claim for violations of the Coast Guard’s spill prevention and pollution control regulation related to the failure to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily bilge water onboard the vessel. The complaint alleges that the defendants discharged engine room bilge, which contains a mixture of fuel, lubricating oils, water, and other wastes, into the ocean and New Bedford Harbor rather than retain the waste onboard. The complaint further alleges these illegal discharges were the result of willful misconduct and were done to extend the duration of the fishing voyages. The United States seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief to deter future violations by the defendants and others in the industry.
In addition to payment of the civil penalties, the consent decree requires corrective measures across the defendants’ fleet of five New Bedford-based fishing vessels. The defendants will be required, among other things, to repair the vessels to reduce the generation of oily bilge water, operate within the vessels’ capacity to retain oily bilge for the full length of planned voyages, provide crew and management training on the proper handling of oily wastes, document all oil and oily waste transfers on and off of the vessels, including documenting proper disposal of engine room bilge water at a shore reception facility, and submit compliance reports to the government.
“Today’s action sends a clear message to the commercial fishing fleet that Clean Water Act compliance must be a non-negotiable part of operations,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We appreciate our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard for their diligent investigation and referral of these violations.”
“Discharges of fuel and oily bilge wastes into our nation’s waters have long been prohibited and will not be condoned,” said Captain Richard J. Schultz, Commander of the Coast Guard’s Sector Southeastern New England. “These defendants will pay significant penalties and conduct fleet-wide corrective measures for their discharges of oil into New Bedford Harbor and the ocean.”
“This enforcement action will help protect people and the environment in and around New Bedford Harbor from the effects of oil pollution, and other fishing vessel owners and operators should take note,” said Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
Section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health. Under the Act, the Coast Guard also has promulgated spill prevention and pollution control regulations for vessels and other facilities. Overboard discharges of oily mixtures, whether by directly pumping out oily bilge water that has not been properly treated, or by attempting to pump only the portion of oily bilge water beneath a floating oil layer in the bilge (so-called “decanting”), has long been unlawful under federal law.
The penalty paid for these discharges and the related pollution prevention violations will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Funds Center. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is used to pay for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the District of Massachusetts, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.