Ship operator, two crew face federal charges in US in water pollution case involving dumping of oily waste

CMA CGM Amazon Image: MarineTraffic.com/Carsten Feldhusen CMA CGM Amazon

A Greek cargo ship operator and two crewmembers of one of its vessels have been named in a five-count federal indictment charging them with failing to record the illegal dumping of oily waste into international waters and then obstructing justice by ordering the ship's crew to lie about it, the US Department of Justice said in a press release dated June 14.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment on June 13 against Capital Ship Management Corporation of Piraeus, Greece, and Romanian nationals Ioan Luca and Ionel Surla, both of whom had served as chief engineer on the Liberian-flagged containership CMA CGM Amazon.

The defendants have been charged with multiple felonies, including conspiracy to fail to maintain an accurate oil record book and to defraud the United States, failure to maintain an accurate oil record book, falsification of records in a matter of federal administration, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice.

Pursuant to international treaties and US law, all large ships are required to use pollution-control technology, including an oily water separator, to remove oil from bilge water that is discharged into the ocean.

The indictment alleges that Luca and, previously, Surla ordered crew members to use a portable pump and flexible hoses in the ship's engine room to transfer oil-contaminated bilge water to a tank designed to hold clean water, then dispose of the water directly overboard into international waters, avoiding use of the oily water separator. Luca and Surla then failed to record such discharges in the ship's oil record book, a document required by federal law.

CMA CGM Amazon's ports of call include various ports in Asia, Egypt, and Canada, as well as the Port of Los Angeles, according to the indictment.

While at the Port of Los Angeles on January 11, 2019, the ship presented the false oil record book to US Coast Guard personnel during an inspection, the indictment alleges.

Capital Ship Management and Luca also have been charged with obstruction of justice and witness tampering for allegedly instructing crew members to lie to the coast guard about events that occurred on the ship while at sea. In conducting the investigation, coast guard personnel relied on the statements of the ship's crew as well as documents, the indictment states.

If convicted of all charges, Luca faces a statutory maximum sentence of 61 years in federal prison while Surla faces a statutory maximum sentence of 11 years in federal prison. Capital Ship Management and Luca, who was arrested last month and is free on bond, were previously named in a criminal complaint.

In a related case, Marian Gavriluta-Strat, a Romanian national and CMA CGM Amazon's second engineer, has pled guilty to an information charging him with failure and causing the failure to maintain an accurate oil record book. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of six years in federal prison.

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