December 11, 2015

According to the United States Department of Justice, a federal
grand jury in North Carolina returned a nine-count indictment
charging two shipboard officers with crimes related to illegal
discharges of oily wastes into the sea. The announcement was
made by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the
Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources
Division and United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker for the
Eastern District of North Carolina.

The indicted crew members were employed by Oceanfleet
Shipping Limited, which operates the cargo carrier M/V Ocean
Hope. They included two engineering officers, the ship’s chief
engineer and second assistant engineer. The federal court
indictment states describes the unlawful conduct as consisting
of bypassing pollution prevention equipment with an
unauthorized hose connection, or “magic pipe” as they have
come to be known in maritime law criminal actions. In general
such actions involve utilizing a length of pipe to circumvent
shipboard oily waste separators, which are designed to separate
oily waste from shipboard wastewater streams from places
such as bilges and other compartments.

The shipboard employees were charged with violation of the Act
to Prevent Pollution from Ships in failing to record overboard
discharges in the vessel’s oil record book, conspiracy for their
agreement to violate federal law, obstruction of justice for
presenting false documents intended to deceive the Coast Guard,
and witness tampering for ordering subordinate crewmembers
to mislead and lie to the Coast Guard. (
Additional details at Dept.
of Justice website

A shipboard oil record book is a document that contains entries
about overboard discharges. It is to be made available to U.S.
Coast Guard personnel when they stop a vessel for inspection. In
the instant case, the employees allegedly maintained a fictitious
oil record book that did not record the disposal, transfer, or
overboard discharge of oil from the vessel. It is also alleged that
the oil record book contained false entries stating that pollution
prevention equipment had been used when it had not.

There was also a charge of making false statements and
obstruction of justice for lying to Coast Guard inspectors about
the discharges. If convicted, the shipboard employees face a
maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice
charges, which the Department of Justice advises may be
rephrased due to the statutory maximum on the 1505 count, in
addition to other possible penalties. The Department of Justice
points out that an indictment is a merely formal charge that a
defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws, and that as
such, every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until
proven guilty.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The matter is
being prosecuted by United States Attorney’s Office for the
Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorneys for the
Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case. The
complex case will involve criminal law, environmental law, and
maritime law. (U.S. Department of Justice)

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