Tank vessel operator convicted of unlawful discharge of bilge waste, sentenced to $1.75 million fine
HONOLULU — Two Honolulu-based fishing companies, Triple Dragon, LLC, and Capt. Millions III, LLC, along with the company managers and vessel operators, have each agreed to implement operational improvements and other compliance measures and pay civil penalties to settle claims stemming from numerous discharges of oily bilge waste from the commercial fishing vessels Triple Dragon and Capt. Millions III, the Department of Justice and Coast Guard announced today.
In two separate complaints, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii today and on April 27, 2018, along with notices of lodging of consent decrees filed today, the United States alleges that the vessel owners, company managers, and vessel operators are each liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act for discharging oily mixtures into the waters off Hawaii. Both complaints also include civil penalty claims under the Clean Water Act for violations of the Coast Guard’s spill prevention and pollution control regulations, including failure to provide sufficient capacity to retain oily mixtures on board. The complaints further allege that in order to extend the length of the Triple Dragon’s and Capt. Millions III’s fishing voyages, the defendants routinely pumped a mixture of fuel oil, lubricating oils, water, and other fluids from the vessels’ engine room bilges into the Pacific Ocean rather than retain the waste on board.
To resolve the claims in the United States’ complaints, the consent decrees require the companies and vessel operators to perform corrective measures, including: (1) repairing the vessels to reduce the quantity of oily waste generated during a fishing voyage; (2) providing crewmembers with training on the proper handling of oily wastes; (3) documenting proper oily waste disposal after returning to port; and (4) submitting compliance reports to the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice.
Additionally, the consent decrees require each vessel owner, company manager, and vessel operator to pay a civil penalty. For the discharges from the Triple Dragon, the vessel owner, Triple Dragon LLC, must pay a civil penalty of $15,000; the company manager, Trung Anh Quach, must pay a civil penalty of $10,000; and the vessel operator, Aukusitino Lui Maui, must pay a civil penalty of $500. For the discharges from the Capt. Millions III, the vessel owner, Capt. Millions III, LLC, must pay a civil penalty of $10,000; the company manager, Brian Nguyen, must pay a civil penalty of $5,000; and the vessel operator, Kha Van, must pay a civil penalty of $7,000. These penalty amounts were set considering each defendant’s limited ability to pay a higher penalty, as demonstrated through documentation submitted to the United States and analyzed by a financial expert.
“Law-abiding vessel owners and operators know the importance of complying with our Nation’s environmental laws,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Members of the fishing fleet who disregard those laws put the public’s health and our Nation’s natural resources in jeopardy. The Justice Department and Coast Guard will continue to work together to hold companies and individuals who violate the Clean Water Act accountable.”
“All vessels, including commercial fishing vessels like these, must comply with the longstanding Clean Water Act environmental protection requirements as part of their normal operations," said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, Commander, Coast Guard 14th District. "As a steward of the marine environment, the Coast Guard will not tolerate illegal dumping of oily waste into the ocean."
“These settlements will serve to protect Hawaii’s citizens and our state’s unique natural resources,” said United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji M. Price. “Those who pollute the ocean should know that we will continue to vigorously pursue and prosecute these types of violations to the fullest extent of the law.”
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 the oily bilge water beneath a floating oil layer in the bilge (so-call “decanting”), has long been unlawful under federal law. Eliminating oil discharges into the ocean helps protect people, birds, fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, and other natural resources.
Under the terms of the Clean Water Act, the penalty paid for these discharges 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 decrees, lodged in the District of Hawaii, are subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. Copies of the consent decrees are available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.