June 03, 2020
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Shipowner fined $3.2 million for illegally discharging bilge water and covering it up

Stock photo | Pexels
Stock photo | Pexels

A federal judge in Portland on Friday ordered the German owners of a ship that illegally dumped oily bilge water while at sea and falsified a logbook to cover it up to pay $3.2 million in fines.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen also placed the firm on probation for four years, according to information filed on the court system’s website.

In a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, MST Mineralien Schiffarht Spedition Und Transport pleaded guilty to one count each of failure to maintain an accurate record and falsifying log entries. In return for the guilty pleas, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped seven additional charges of failing to maintain an accurate record. In return, the financial firm that owns the vessel, Reederei MS Marguerita, was dismissed from the indictment.

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Still pending is a motion by three of the ship’s workers who cooperated with federal prosecutors. They are seeking a portion of the fines as compensation for lost wages and other damages because, as the case was investigated, they were detained in the U.S. for 2½ months. Also, they had to travel to the U.S. earlier this year for a trial that did not take place. Two of the three men were fired, a third is now 60 and partially disabled, and none has been able to return to sea to work, according to the motion.

Torresen originally rejected the deal because it did not include compensation for the sailors. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that procedurally, the men could seek a portion of the fine once it had been imposed.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey B. Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a Friday release that it was not the first time the ship’s owner, based in Bavaria, Germany, had been fined for similar illegal activities. The company was also fined two years ago.

“Today’s action demonstrates that the Coast Guard and the Justice Department will not stand by while foreign vessels intentionally pollute our oceans and then try to cover up their criminal acts by lying to the U.S. Coast Guard,” he said. “This company is a repeat offender, which makes plain that it has shown contempt for the rule of law. I applaud the investigators and prosecutors who obtained this result.”

The owner was convicted of similar environmental crimes in 2016 in Minnesota, according to the release. That case involved the falsification of the oil record book for the M/V Cornelia, which concealed deliberate discharges of oil-contaminated bilge water into the Great Lakes. The company was on probation for those discharges when it committed the crimes charged in Maine.

Attorneys for the German firm did immediately respond to a request for comment.

The M/V Marguerita, a slurry carrier, first went to sea in early 2016. Between September 2016 and June 19, 2017, members of the crew set up a system to bypass the oil-water separator and discharge bilge water into the ocean and failed to keep an accurate record of the discharges, according to court documents. A crewmember informed the company of the problem.

The discharge was reported to U.S. officials, “remedial measures” were promptly taken and the Marguerita went through an environmental audit conducted by a third party when it arrived in Brazil, court documents said. When the cargo ship arrived July 7, 2017, in Portland, more than a dozen U.S. Coast Guard agents came aboard to inspect the vessel and detained some of its crew.

Three crewmembers were detained, fired from their jobs and this fall had to be on call to come to Maine this month for the scheduled trial. The trial was canceled after the plea agreement was reached. The men are seeking an unspecified amount of damages in compensation. A hearing on that motion has not been set.


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