(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) Zeus Lines Management S.A. (Zeus), a vessel operating company, pleaded guilty on Monday in Providence, Rhode Island, to maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge and for failing to report a hazardous condition on board the oil tanker Galissas. The company’s chief engineer, Roberto Cayabyab Penaflor, and Captain Jose Ervin Mahigne Porquez also pleaded guilty today for their roles in those crimes.
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8.
According to court documents, Zeus and Penaflor admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Galissas directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. They also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law.
Specifically, on three separate occasions between November 2021 and February 2022, Penaflor ordered crew members working for him in the engine room to discharge a total of approximately 9,544 gallons of oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank directly into the ocean using the vessel’s emergency fire pump, bypassing the vessel’s required pollution prevention equipment. In addition, in preparation for the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the Galissas, Penaflor instructed crew members on several occasions to not tell the Coast Guard about bypassing the pollution prevention equipment resulting in illegal discharges.
In addition to the illegal discharges of oily bilge water, on Feb. 2, 2022, while the Galissas was conducting cargo operations in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, crew members became aware that the vessel’s inert gas system was inoperable. This system is necessary to ensure that oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks remain at safe levels – at or below 8% – and do not pose a hazardous condition that could lead to an explosion or fire. Rather than remaining in Rotterdam until the inert gas system could be repaired, shore side management of Zeus and Captain Porquez determined that the vessel should instead sail to the United States, where a spare part would be delivered upon the vessel’s arrival for the crew to repair the system.
On Feb. 11, 2022, while the Galissas was transiting the Atlantic Ocean from the Netherlands to the United States, Porquez submitted a required notice of arrival to the U.S. Coast Guard informing the Coast Guard of, among other things, the vessel’s last port of call, planned arrival in the United States and the type of cargo onboard the vessel. In this notice of arrival, Porquez did not report that a hazardous condition existed onboard the vessel (the inoperable inert gas system).
On Feb. 19, 2022, the Galissas arrived off the coast of Rhode Island and although the vessel’s crew received and installed the spare part, the inert gas system remained inoperable. The following day, the U.S. Coast Guard measured the oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks and found levels ranged between 15 and 17%, well beyond the maximum allowable 8%. The Coast Guard then ordered that the vessel be moved further offshore so as to not endanger the port of Newport, Rhode Island.
Porquez had a logbook created that indicated the cargo tanks were at safe oxygen levels when the vessel left the Netherlands and remained at safe levels during the majority of the vessel’s transit of the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, the crew had not taken any readings of the oxygen levels in the cargo tanks during the vessel’s voyage. Porquez had tasked the vessel’s chief officer with creating this fraudulent logbook that was then presented to the U.S. Coast Guard during its inspection.
Zeus and Penaflor each pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain the oil record book for the Galissas. Zeus and Porquez also pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act for failing to report the vessel’s hazardous condition to the U.S. Coast Guard. Under the terms of the plea agreement Zeus will pay a total monetary penalty of $2.25 million, consisting of a fine of $1,687,500 and a community service payment of $562,500. Additionally, Zeus will serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement a robust environmental compliance plan.
“This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of the marine environment, and to safeguarding coastal communities against hazardous conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure those who pollute and endanger our coastal communities are held fully accountable.”
“This case demonstrates the U.S. government’s resolve to ensure the safety of life at sea and protect our ports from rogue and negligent actors,” said Rear Admiral John Mauger, Commander of the First Coast Guard District. “Every day, thousands of ships safely call on U.S. ports and handle nearly 95% of U.S. trade that drives our economy and provides for our national security. By sailing into a major U.S. port with a known faulty inert gas generator, the operator, and senior officers of the Galissas endangered not only their shipmates but also the people of Rhode Island. The Coast Guard will continue to train and deploy our vessel examiners to protect mariners and our nation's ports by deterring and detecting unsafe and illegal activity. We appreciate the strong resolve from the Justice Department in holding these rogue actors accountable.
Source: US DOJ