Whistleblower’s Information Leads to $1.9 Million Recovery from Two Shipping Companies for Ocean Pollution
Defendants Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management plead guilty yesterday for illegally dumping oil and garbage into the ocean in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (“APPS”) 33 U.S.C. §§ 1901 – 1915.
In April 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard received a written statement, photographs, and video from a crew member on the M/T ETC MENA, a Liberian registered ship,showing that the ship had illegally dumped bilge waste overboard into the ocean. On the same day, the Coast Guard boarded the ship and began their investigation. They found a hose covered in oil and submerged in the ships bilge tank.
The 57,920-gross ton M/T ETC MENA ship is owned and operated by Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, a Singapore based company. In January 2016, the ship underwent various maintenance repairs in Turkey, but after it left the dock it experienced a gasket malfunction causing the ship’s fresh water to drain into the bilge wells. The Chief Engineer improperly ordered the crew to pump the bilge wells into the vessel’s clean drain tank using a flexible hose. On at least one occasion, the Chief engineer also ordered the crew to dispose of the bilge water that was transferred to the clean tanks by pumping it directly overboard and bypassing the ship’s Oily Water Separator (“OWS”). When dumping any oily-contaminated water overboard it must pass through the OWS to lower the amount of oil that is dumped in to the sea. Bypassing this system is a violation of APPS. Moreover, not reporting dumping oil overboard in the Oil Record Book or reporting the dumping of garbage into the ocean in the Garbage Record Book are violations of 33 U.S.C. $ 1908(a).
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the ship entered U.S. waters on March 24, 2016 that it could be cited for violating APPS. The United States’ APPS law is the leading ocean pollution whistleblower law that rewards non-U.S. citizen and U.S. citizen crew members for violations that occur on non-U.S. flagged ship in the open ocean.
Currently, the European Union (“EU”) does not have an ocean pollution whistleblower law. Last month, the National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) submitted a proposal for a APPS like law to be enacted in the E.U. For a ship to be subject to APPS, it must enter U.S. waters. This means that the millions of ships traveling around the world that never enter U.S. waters have little to no repercussions for illegally dumping oil. The MARPOL Protocol, which the APPS implements in the United States, has been signed by almost all European countries, but those countries have yet to implement enforcement mechanisms.
In the United States, the government has recovered over $278,982,999 from APPS prosecutions that originated from whistleblower’s information. Moreover, over $65 million of the restitution collected has been given to environmental community service projects dedicated to pollution prevention.
In this case, the two shipping companies were sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $1,500,000 with a mandatory special assessment of $2,400 and a community service payment of $400,000. This also included an agreement not to object to a whistleblower monetary award filed by the government. The whistleblower’s award has yet to be determined, but the whistleblower can be awarded up to 50% of a fine collected for providing information that leads to a successful prosecution.
Whistleblowers are the key to uncovering pollution that occurs out of the sight of law enforcement and in the middle of the ocean. Implementing APPS like laws in other countries like the E.U. that incentivize whistleblowers for reporting ocean pollution violations will decrease ocean pollution.