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Tanker operator fined and captain indicted by US court over oil spill incident

Ridgebury Alexandra Z Image: MarineTraffic.com/Alexander Demin Ridgebury Alexandra Z

Cyprus-based vessel operator Interorient Marine Services was convicted and sentenced on Wednesday, February 13, in the Western District of Louisiana for maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oil from the tank of one of its ships, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

Interorient admitted that oil cargo residues and oily bilge water were illegally dumped from Ridgebury Alexandra Z directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment.

The company also admitted that false entries were made in the vessel’s oil record book to conceal the illegal dumping. Specifically, senior ship officers employed by Interorient discharged oily waste into the ocean by flushing the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment sensor with fresh water.

This flushing of the sensor tricked the system into detecting a much lower effluent oil content than what was actually being discharged.

The senior officers then falsified the vessel’s oil record book, recording that 331,000 litres of oily wastewater had been discharged properly through the pollution prevention equipment, when in fact they knew that the equipment had been tampered with.

Interorient pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain Ridgebury Alexandra Z’s oil record book.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Interorient will pay a total fine of US$2 million and serve a four-year term of probation, during which all vessels operated by the company and calling on US ports will be required to implement a robust environmental compliance plan.

The vessel’s captain, Vjaceslavs Birzakovs, was charged in a six-count indictment by a Grand Jury in the Western District of Louisiana on November 29, 2018, for his involvement in the case.

The indictment alleges that Birzakovs directed circumvention of the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment, falsified records, obstructed justice, made false statements, and conspired with other crewmembers to falsify the vessel’s oil record book and to obstruct the US Coast Guard’s enforcement of the law in conjunction with the illegal discharges from Ridgebury Alexandra Z.

The charges and allegations contained in the captain’s indictment are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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