Wednesday, September 26, 2016

A good portion of the maritime law news and legislative
developments in this section tend to focus on civil matters that
have a legal nexus to operating tugboats, ferries, cruise ships,
cargo vessels and recreational vessels on navigable waters. This
includes seamen’s injuries, cargo damages, maritime salvage,
boating accidents, dangerous products, marine warranties, and
things along those lines. This month, we give space to an
important criminal law matter involving the U.S. Dept. of Justice
prosecuting a vessel operator and two crew members for
violations of federal law.

A jury convicted a shipping company for violations of a well-
known federal regulation whose legislative intent is to protect our
waterways and marine wildlife, namely, the Act to Prevent
Pollution from Ships. In their court papers, prosecutors leveled
charges that included obstruction of justice, false statements,
witness tampering, and conspiracy. Also convicted by the
Department of Justice in this prosecution in the Eastern District
of North Carolina were two merchant marine officers, senior-
level engineering officers who were seamen employed in the
service of the vessel. Based on the decisions of the jurors,
convictions were obtained on the nine counts of the indictment.

The prosecution was able to present evidence that showed the
vessel M/V Ocean Hope discharged oily waste overboard. The
entire legal fact pattern appears on the United States Department
of Justice website. Ordinarily, commercial vessels of this size
are expected to utilize a device known as an oil-water separator.
This prevents contaminated waste from being pumped
overboard. The unlawful discharge of oil and other waste
streams is treated as a crime under a number of different federal
laws as well as state and local legislation. Pollution violations
under these various statutory schemes are subject to
imprisonment and fines.

In the instant case, attorneys for the prosecution gathered
admissible evidence to demonstrate that the ship used what is
known as a “magic pipe” for circumventing the oil-water
separator. See
Justice News - U.S. Department of Justice .
During the trial, federal prosecutors were able to prove that the
companies knew that oily sludge had not been offloaded since
2014 and that the ship had rarely made use of the environmental
control device to prevent oily waste discharges.

As a footnote, criminal and civil trials differ from one another in a
fundamental aspect which includes the relevant evidentiary
standard. In criminal cases, federal or state prosecutors need to
prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is in contrast to
the civil evidentiary standard that applies to boating accidents
and other incidents involving pleasure boats, maritime collisions,
salvage, hull or machinery damage claims, or other events
involving ships and pleasure boats, which is based on a
preponderance of the evidence. The applicable rules are the
Federal Rules of Evidence, where excepted by differences with
state rules of evidence and criminal procedure codes.

Under U.S. maritime law, some of the other relevant federal
regulations include the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Clean Water Act,
and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In some of these legislative
schemes, federal prosecutors do not always need to furnish
evidence of negligence. Rather, violations are sometimes
governed by strict liability, which creates a more stringent legal

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