US federal court fines two Liberian-registered companies for concealing vessel oil pollution, failing to notify authorities of hazardous vessel condition

Nederland Reefer (Photo: US Department of Justice)

Two shipping companies incorporated in Liberia have pled guilty in US federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, to charges of failing to notify the US Coast Guard of a hazardous condition on one of its vessels and of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) by presenting false documents to the coast guard, hence covering up vessel oil pollution.

The plea agreement includes a US$1.8 million criminal penalty.

Defendants Nederland Shipping Corporation and Chartworld Shipping Corporation are the owner and operator of the 13,000-tonne, ocean-going refrigerated cargo/container vessel Nederland Reefer.

Large ships like Nederland Reefer generate oil-contaminated bilge waste when water mixes in the bottom or bilges of the ship with oil that has leaked from the ship’s engines and other areas. This waste must be processed to separate the water from the oil and other wastes by using pollution prevention equipment, including an oily water separator (OWS), before being discharged into the sea.

The APPS requires that the disposal of the ship’s bilge waste be recorded in the ship’s oil record book (ORB).

The investigation began on February 21, 2019, when the US Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment out of Lewes, Delaware, conducted a Port State Control Examination of Nederland Reefer.

During the course of the inspection, the coast guard determined that the vessel’s chief engineer, Vasileios Mazarakis, had been repeatedly tricking the oil content monitoring device on the vessel’s OWS with fresh water thereby discharging untreated oily bilge water overboard at sea. Mr Mazarakis then falsified the vessel’s ORB to conceal these illegal discharges from the coast guard.

On October 2, 2019, Mr Mazarakis pled guilty to a violation of the APPS for his falsification of the ORB. As part of his guilty plea, he also admitted that he took various actions to obstruct the coast guard’s investigation, including destruction of evidence and witness tampering.

The coast guard’s investigation also determined that on December 30, 2018, seawater began entering the vessel below the waterline through a hole in the vessel’s bilge holding tank. This compromise of the hull’s integrity, and the temporary repairs thereto, constituted a hazardous condition that the defendants failed to report to the coast guard.

Under the plea agreement, the companies will be placed on a four-year term of probation that includes a comprehensive environmental compliance plan to ensure, among other things, that ships operated by Chartworld entering the United States fully comply with all applicable national and international marine environmental protection laws.

The compliance plan will be implemented by an independent auditing company and supervised by a court-appointed monitor.

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