Ship detained over pollution standards

Posted Feb. 09, 2010, at 7:20 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — Officials with the Coast Guard on Tuesday still weren’t saying what prompted them to detain and investigate a Cyprus-flagged shipping vessel at the local cargo port.

But they did say it involves international shipping standards and that they are getting another agency involved. The case of the Margit Gorthon is being turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a Coast Guard spokesman said Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s really their case at this point,” said Erik Halvorson, a public affairs officer with the Coast Guard’s regional office in Boston.

The ship, which was detained on Feb. 4, was still being held in the local port Tuesday afternoon, according to officials.

Halvorson said the Coast Guard believes the 463-foot vessel has violated international standards for pollution. He said it is not clear whether the boat had actually polluted the environment, but added that it doesn’t appear to meet minimum international standards for pollution control systems and procedures.

“We definitely found some evidence that the standards weren’t being followed,” Halvorson said. “We’re investigating whether any pollution occurred in Maine waters.”

Halvorson said he didn’t know what prompted the inquiry, but acknowledged it may have been in response to information provided to the Coast Guard.

“I think they had some word,” he said of Coast Guard officials in Maine.

Inquiries made to officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine were directed Tuesday afternoon to Paula Silsby, the U.S. attorney for Maine. Silsby did not return a message left for her at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.

According to Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority, the ship arrived in Eastport on Monday, Feb. 1, from Pictou, Nova Scotia. He has said there is no indication the Margit Gorthon has polluted the environment in or near Eastport.

Since its arrival, pulp delivered from the Domtar mill in Baileyville has been loaded onto the ship, Gardner said Tuesday. The vessel has not and is not expected to unload any cargo in Eastport, he said. It was about to leave Eastport on Thursday, Feb. 4, for Santander, Spain, when it was stopped by the Coast Guard, he said.

“This incident has very little to do with the Port of Eastport,” Gardner said. “[The vessel] happened to be getting ready to untie from our pier [when it was detained].”

There is no dangerous cargo on board, Gardner said, and the ship’s crew is not being detained or held on the ship.

Gardner said his understanding was that there may have been some sort of incident at sea that precipitated the Coast Guard’s detention of the vessel. He referred further questions about what type of incident may have taken place to the Coast Guard Sector Northern New England office in Portland.

Cmdr. Brian Downey, the sector’s deputy commander, declined Tuesday to indicate what sort of incident, if any, may have led to the Coast Guard’s interest in the Margit Gorthon.

“I’m not sure if they polluted or not,” Downey said of the ship. “There’s no reason for anyone in Washington County to be concerned about their safety.”

Downey said the Coast Guard is not monitoring or concerned about the ship’s crew or personnel. He said he did not know how long the ship might be detained in Eastport.

“I wouldn’t be able to speculate on a timeline,” Downey said.

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