WASHINGTON – Two Greek shipping companies connected to illegally dumping toxic waste into the ocean and covering it up during an inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard at the Port of Wilmington, have been ordered to pay fines of $2.7 million.
The fines stem from a July 2015 inspection after the ship had arrived in Wilmington. At the time, senior engineers for the companies tried to hide that the vessel Ocean Hope had been dumping oily wastes into the ocean for months, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The most recent discharge had happened as the ship prepared to approach the Port of Wilmington.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the operation of commercial vessels is known to generate large quantities of waste oil, oil-contaminated wastewater and oil sludge.
“International and U.S. law forbid the discharge of oily wastes into the ocean,” the release states. “Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an official oil record book that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.”
According to the attorney general, however, “the companies maintained a lax ‘paper’ compliance regime focused on avoiding liability rather than adequately training and supervising engineers.
“The companies failed to follow their own environmental policies and also ignored important red flags, such as the vessel’s failure to offload oil sludge for many months and its rare use of a pollution prevention device known as an oil-water separator,” the release states.
The release states that the “regular dumping of tons of bilge water into the ocean continued for at least six months.”
On at least two occasions, the government said that senior engineers conspired to discharge tons of heavy oil sludge into the ocean through what is referred to as a ”magic pipe.” It was this method that was used in July 2015, as the ship approached American waters and Wilmington.
“Coast Guard inspectors and laboratory testing confirmed the presence of heavy oils in the vessel’s overboard discharge piping,” the release states. However, the attorney general’s office states that the engineers told subordinates to lie to Coast Guard inspectors and to cover up evidence. In addition, the chief engineer is said to have presented false disposal records to inspectors.
Each company was ordered to pay part of its penalty to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia. That is in recognition of the threat posed by illegal discharges of oily waste to the marine environment, the release states.
Oceanfleet Shipping Limited, the vessel’s operator, was ordered to pay a $1,350,000 fine and make a $450,000 community service payment to Gray’s Reef.
Oceanic Illsabe Limited, the vessel’s corporate owner, was ordered to pay a $650,000 fine and make a $250,000 community service payment to the reef.
Each company was placed on a five-year term of probation and barred from sending ships to United States ports until its financial penalty has been satisfied.