WILMINGTON — Two men were ordered to serve several months in federal prison for obstructing a U.S. Coast Guard inspection that took place in the Port of Wilmington in July 2015. The two men were responsible for illegally dumping cargo ship waste into the ocean.
Cassius Samson, 52, and Rustico Ignacio, 66, both of the Philippines, were sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard for the Eastern District of North Carolina, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ignacio and Samson were convicted of conspiracy, violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, obstruction of justice and witness tampering, by a federal jury in Greenville, North Carolina, in September 2016.
Ignacio was the chief engineer and Samson the second engineer aboard the cargo ship “Ocean Hope.”
The evidence showed that Ignacio and Samson attempted to cover up dumping tons of oil sludge and machinery space bilge water into the ocean before the ship arrived in the United States. In addition, defendant Samson committed perjury at trial.
Several lower-level engineering crewmembers testified at trial that Samson regularly ordered, with Ignacio’s knowledge and approval, the pumping of oily wastes into the ocean over a period of months.
On at least two occasions, Samson ordered the connection of a bypass hose, or “magic pipe,” to pump tons of thick sludge directly overboard. Coast Guard inspectors and laboratory testing confirmed the presence of heavy oils in overboard discharge piping.
When the vessel arrived at the Port of Wilmington, the engineers ordered subordinates to lie to Coast Guard inspectors and to cover up evidence. Ignacio presented inspectors with a doctored oil record book, in which false accountings of the ship’s production and disposal of oily wastes were recorded.
“These crewmembers egregiously violated U.S. and international pollution laws, obstructed justice and spoiled the marine waters upon which our planet and its marine life depend,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said. “This case shows that polluting the ocean with oily waste and sludge will land you in jail, and that we will aggressively prosecute these serious crimes.”
Samson was sentenced to a term of 12 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release and Ignacio to a term of nine months, followed by a year of supervised release.
“Our office was pleased to partner with the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in this significant case,” U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce, for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said. “We will continue to vigorously enforce federal laws designed to prevent the pollution of the world’s oceans.”
Also convicted at trial were Oceanic Illsabe Limited, the owner of the Ocean Hope, and Oceanfleet Shipping Limited, its managing operator. Both shipping companies are based out of Greece. Sentencing of the corporate defendants is scheduled for early January 2017.
“The Coast Guard applauds the efforts of the Department of Justice and all parties involved in investigating this case,” said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Cmdr. Meredith Austin, of the 5th Coast Guard District in Portsmouth, Virginia. “As an agency charged with the stewardship of the environment, we remain dedicated to detecting and preventing threats to the well-being of our nation’s waters and marine resources.”
The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina, the Coast Guard Investigative Service and U.S. Coast Guard 5th District. Civil Chief Norman Acker and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson for the Eastern District of North Carolina provided additional expertise and assistance with the pretrial phase of the case.
The attorneys prosecuting the case were senior trial attorney Kenneth Nelson and trial attorney Brendan Selby, of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and Banu Rangarajan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.