Back to Shipyard Workders
Criminal Prosecution for Marine Pollution
By Tim Akpinar
Reprinted with permission of Work Boat - To visit WorkBoat.com, go to Commercial Vessel Links
and find Workboat Magazine at the top of the page.
Article in HTML Text
Headlines about criminal prosecutions by the U.S. government for oily waste discharges appear frequently in maritime
journals today. Indictments usually involve crewmembers by-passing oil water separators, discharging oily bilge water directly
overboard at nighttime, or falsifying engine room log books. While the violations typically originate in the engineering
department, they can lead to prosecution of corporate officers.
Current environmental regulations impose criminal penalties for violations that were once considered acts of ordinary
negligence. Federal statutes that have provisions for criminal penalties include the Clean Water Act, Oil Pollution Act of
1990, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among others. In addition to federal statutes, violators may also be prosecuted under
Any crime, be it a homicide or an unlawful release of bulk ammonia onto a river, consists of two elements…(1.) an unlawful
act and (2.) a blameworthy mental state. As one would expect, the most severe penalties are reserved for crimes committed
intentionally and the least severe for those committed negligently.
New York State distinguishes between criminal acts that are carried out: (1.) intentionally, (2.) knowingly, (3.) recklessly, or
(4.) with criminal negligence. Other states use a similar hierarchy, even if the particular words they use differ. These may be
illustrated by the examples below:
Intentionally: An engineering watch officer deliberately by-passes the oil water separator and discharges oily waste water
directly overboard He then makes an entry into the log book that he ran the waste water through the purifier..
Knowingly: (willful blindness) A chief engineer is aware that one of his junior engineers pumps oily bilge water directly
overboard every night. He pretends not to know about the practice but approves of it since it avoids costly use of the oil water
Recklessly: Prior to coming on watch for a cargo transferring operation and aware of the importance of his upcoming duties, a
crewmember has a few beers. As a result, he forgets the order in which he opened certain valves on a barge and overfills a
tank, spilling home heating oil overboard.
Criminal negligence: A mate sends a welder into an empty fuel oil tank, oblivious to the need to ensure the absence of
combustible vapors. The welding arc sparks an explosion which injures the welder and results in a fire that causes no. 6 oil to
be released overboard.
If a crewmember’s conduct resulted in an environmental casualty, his mental state is something that investigators would focus
upon. Following a significant release of a petroleum product or hazardous substance onto navigable waters, it is likely that a
vessel would be boarded by personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and various state
agencies. In addition to ascertaining what happened, assessing environmental damages, and exploring emergency and
remedial measures, Coast Guard and regulatory personnel would be interested in determining if there is evidence that a
Back to Top
|The menu bar below will
bring you to the maritime
law pages of Attorney Tim