US federal court fines tanker operator US$1.75 million for unlawful discharge of bilge waste

Topaz Express

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a Singapore-based shipowner, has pleaded guilty in US federal court to one count of maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from one of its vessels, a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

US District Judge Derrick K. Watson of the District of Hawaii accepted the guilty plea. Mr Skenda Reddy and Mr Padmanaban Samirajan, who were chief engineer and second engineer, respectively, on the product tanker Topaz Express, previously pled guilty to their involvement in the offence.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Bernhard will pay a total fine of US$1.75 million and serve a four-year term of probation, the largest fine ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offence. Bernhard further must implement a robust environmental compliance plan, which applies to all 38 of the company’s vessels that call on US ports.

According to court documents and information presented in court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment. Bilge waste typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel.

The defendants admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law.

Specifically, on three separate occasions between May and July 2019, Bernhard, acting through Mr Reddy and Mr Samirajan, its employees, used a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass the ship’s pollution prevention equipment and discharge bilge waste directly into the ocean. They then failed to record the improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.

Additionally, during the US Coast Guard’s inspection of Topaz Express, Mr Reddy destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged overboard without being processed through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment.

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