Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON – A ship management company headquartered in Singapore pleaded guilty and was sentenced today in federal court in Mobile for deliberately falsifying records to conceal pollution discharges from the ship directly into the sea. Target Ship Management Pte. Ltd., the operator of the M/V Gaurav Prem, pleaded guilty to a violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to properly maintain an oil record book as required by federal and international law, as well as making material false statements during a U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the ship at the port of Mobile in September 2011.
Payongyut Vongvichinakul, the ship’s chief engineer, and Pakpoom Hanprap, the ship’s second engineer, also pleaded guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and are scheduled to be sentenced on July 19, 2012.
The company was sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine along with a $200,000 community service payment to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The community service payment will be earmarked for projects in the Southern District of Alabama, including Mobile Bay. Target was also sentenced to three years probation. As a condition of the probation, ships operated or managed by Target that will or may call on the United States, must be subject to an environmental compliance plan supervised by outside auditors and the court.
“Deliberate pollution and acts to conceal it are serious crimes that we will continue to vigorously prosecute,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This significant criminal fine should send a message to shipping companies worldwide that those who pollute our oceans will be held accountable.”
“This case represents a tremendous win for our environment,” said Kenyen Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. “The U.S. relies on vessel crews and their management companies to provide accurate logs and records when calling on U.S. ports to ensure oily wastes are discharged properly at sea. The U.S. is fully committed to prosecuting those cases where vessels cover-up improper oily waste discharges at sea through the use of falsified logs. This prosecution would not have been possible without the hard work of the U.S. Coast Guard at Sector Mobile and District Eight, Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and Department of Justice, Environmental and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section.”
“This plea and sentence reflect the US Coast Guard's steadfast commitment to protecting the marine environment. We will continue to investigate violations of environmental law, working with partners at the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and others, to ensure the stewardship and health of our oceans," said Rear Admiral Roy A. Nash, Commander, Eighth Coast Guard District.”
“The oceans must be protected from shipping companies that look to cut corners by dumping waste improperly,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Alabama. “The defendants in this case knowingly discharged oily waste from their vessel into the open water and tried to cover it up. Today’s guilty pleas demonstrate that the U.S. government will not tolerate the flagrant violation of its laws.”
According to papers filed in court, senior Target employees discharged and caused the overboard discharge of oily bilge waste from the M/VGaurav Prem on multiple occasions as the vessel sailed from South Korea to Mobile. The vessel departed South Korea on or about July 29, 2011, and underwent a Coast Guard inspection on Sept. 21, 2011, in Mobile. The discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required. The deliberate overboard discharges of oily waste were accomplished through the ship’s fixed bilge piping system and by using the ship’s general service pump in a manner that intentionally bypassed required pollution prevention equipment, including the ship’s oily water separator and oil content monitor, designed to detect and prevent discharges containing more than 15 parts per million (ppm) oil, the international standard. The bypass system used a “spool pipe” to connect the ship’s bilge system with the ship’s ballast system to make the illegal discharges from the vessel’s bilges and bilge holding tank.
Federal and international law requires that all ships comply with pollution regulations that include the proper disposal of oily water and sludge by passing the oily water through a separator aboard the vessel or burning the sludge in the ship’s incinerator. Federal law also requires ships to accurately record each disposal of oily water or sludge in an oil record book and to have the record book available for the U.S. Coast Guard when the vessel is within the waters of the United States.
The ship’s captain, Prastana Taohim, was convicted at a jury trial on May 17, 2012, for obstructing the Coast Guard’s inspection for similar but unrelated charges. At trial, it was found that Taohim ordered the ship’s chief officer to throw hundreds of plastic pipes into the ocean and not record the discharge in the ship’s garbage record book as required. Taohim then knowingly made the garbage record book available during the Coast Guard inspection on Sept. 21, 2011. The plastic pipes had previously contained insecticide and were used to fumigate a grain shipment. The jury also found the captain guilty of one count of obstruction of justice related to covering up the pollution by creating a false and fictitious garbage log. The captain is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 15, 2012.
This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, Mobile, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, Gulf Breeze, Fla. Additional assistance was provided by the Coast Guard Sector Mobile and U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District Legal Office. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney David O’Connell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.