Greek vessel operator, chief engineer convicted for oily bilge water discharge offence in US court

An Athens-based vessel operating company and a chief engineer on one of its ships have pleaded guilty in San Diego, California, for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge water from a bulk cargo vessel, the US Department of Justice has confirmed.

New Trade Ship Management and Chief Engineer Dennis Plasabas admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the bulk carrier Longshore directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment on two separate occasions between October and December 2021 in the waters off Southern California.

Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel.

The defendants also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law. Specifically, on the two separate occasions, Mr Plasabas ordered lower-ranking crew members to use a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass pollution prevention equipment by transferring oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank to the vessel’s sewage tank, from where it was discharged directly into the ocean.

Mr Plasabas then failed to record these improper transfers and overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book. Additionally, in order to create a false and misleading electronic record as if the pollution prevention equipment had been properly used, he directed lower-ranking crew members to pump clean sea water into the vessel’s bilge holding tank in the same quantity as the amount of oily bilge water that he had ordered transferred to the sewage tank.

Mr Plasabas then processed the clean sea water through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment as if it was oily bilge water in order to make it appear that the pollution prevention equipment was being properly used when in fact it was not.

The electronic records indicate that approximately 9,600 gallons (36,340 litres) of clean sea water were run through the pollution prevention equipment.

New Trade and Plasabas each pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain Longshore’s oil record book. Under the terms of the plea agreement and subject to court approval, New Trade will pay a total fine of US$1.1 million and serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on US ports will be required to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan.

Sentencing for the defendants is currently set for November 18.

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