HONOLULU — A federal judge in Hawaii has ordered a Singapore-based shipping company to pay $1.75 million in fines for allegedly dumping bilge waste directly into the ocean.
The US Department of Justice announced Monday that vessel operating company Bernhard Schulte Ship management pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from the tank vessel Topaz Express. That amounts to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson of the District of Hawaii accepted the guilty plea.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Bernhard will pay a total fine of $1,750,000 and serve a four-year term of probation. This is the largest fine ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offense according to DOJ.
Bernhard further must implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan, which applies to all 38 vessels operated by the company that call on U.S. ports.
According to court documents and information presented in court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from the Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment. Bilge waste typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel.
The defendants admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law, according to documents. Specifically, on three separate occasions between May and July 2019, Bernhard, acting through Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan, its employees, used a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass the ship’s pollution prevention equipment and discharge bilge waste directly into the ocean. They then failed to record the improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.
Additionally, during the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the Topaz Express, Reddy destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged overboard without being processed through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment.
The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case. Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc A. Wallenstein of the District of Hawaii are prosecuting the case.
U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price of the District of Hawaii said prosecutions like this are important to hold companies accountable for harm caused to the ocean ecosystem.
“In Hawaii, we are surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and companies that intentionally damage the ocean’s ecosystem must be held accountable for their criminal conduct,” Price said. “My office will continue to bring to justice companies that illegally discharge bilge waste into the ocean and then attempt to conceal their misconduct.”
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division explains under US law, vessel operators are are required to either properly treat their bilge waste onboard before discharging it into the sea or offload their bilge waste to disposal facilities.
“This case should serve as a deterrent to individuals and companies that flout our laws and pollute our oceans,” Clark said.