A federal judge has fined Cardiff Marine Inc. $2.4 million and placed the shipping company on three years’ probation after it pled guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
The Liberian-registered company admitted falsifying records of illegal discharges of oily waste from the M/V Capitola, making false statements to the Coast Guard, and other acts of concealment.
U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis of Baltimore imposed sentence Wednesday (Feb. 23). The company will also be subject to an environmental compliance plan that includes audits by an independent third-party auditor.
The company issued no comment on the plea.
Secret Video, ‘Magic Pipe’
The investigation into the M/V Capitola began May 3, 2010, at the Port of Baltimore, after a ship crew member informed a visiting clergyman that there had been "monkey business in the engine room," which involved a "magic pipe," according to court documents.
The pipe proved to be a bypass hose that allowed dumping of waste oil overboard, circumventing pollution prevention equipment required by law.
The crew member asked the minister to alert the Coast Guard to the dumping and to pass on a flash drive bearing video taken in the ship's engine room. That triggered an inspection and investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Service and Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigative Division.
The investigation confirmed that the ship had an illegal discharge system as depicted in the whistleblower's video. The video showed a black hose tied in several places to overhead piping in the engine room. The hose connected one of the vessel's waste oil tanks to a valve that opened directly to the ocean.
Three engine room crew members, who had served on the ship more than six months, told investigators that a senior engineering officer had directed them multiple times to use the hose to discharge accumulated waste oil, sludge and water from the oil tank overboard.
None of these illegal discharges were recorded in the Oil Record Book, as required by law, the justice department said.
Investigators also learned about a ship document called the Daily Sounding Record, which tracked how much waste oil, sludge and bilge water was in each waste tank on a daily basis.
Authorities said the document would have been useful in comparing waste tank levels to entries in the Oil Record Book, but the senior engineering officer told the Coast Guard that the record did not exist. He said his only records of waste tank levels were on undated scraps of paper.
"The Department of Justice will continue to hold shipping companies like Cardiff accountable for breaking the laws that protect our oceans," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Environment & Natural Resources.
"Shippers who fail to record discharges of oily waste, discharge waste illegally, or try to cover up this unacceptable and illegal practice will be prosecuted."
Rear Adm. Dean Lee, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard's 5th District, said: “The Coast Guard brings to bear the expertise and detection capability of our marine inspectors, and our partnership with the Department of Justice allows us to hold marine polluters accountable."
Privately owned Cardiff Marine Inc., established in 1986, manages a global fleet in excess of 6 million deadweight tons that serves the dry bulk, container, refrigerated cargo and tanker sectors.