Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tanker Company Pays $37 Million to Settle Pollution Charges

The Department of Justice announced that Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., a large publicly-traded tanker company, entered a guilty plea to thirty-three counts of environmental and other violations from ocean dumping by a number of its vessels.  The charges include illegal dumping of waste oil, violations of the Clean Water Act/Oil Pollution Act, the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, conspiracy, false statements and obstruction of justice  The company will pay $37 million as part of its guilty plea, which involves $27.8 million in criminal fines and $9.2 million to fund various environmental projects.  According to a DoJ press release (here):

The government’s investigation was initiated after the Coast Guard in Boston received a referral from the Marine Safety Branch of Transport Canada, indicating that records for the M/T Uranus showed that bilge waste was being disposed while the official Oil Record Book failed to account for the disposal of waste. It was determined that these illegal discharges occurred within U.S. waters off-the-coast of Maine and Massachusetts. During this time, crew members discharged approximately 150,000 gallons of oil-contaminated waste while “tricking” the Oil Content Meter designed to detect and prevent discharges containing more than 15 parts per million oil, the international limit established by the MARPOL Protocol, an international treaty implemented by the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

The government’s investigation grew to include evidence of deliberate violations of the MARPOL Protocol and U.S. law by the following 12 oil tankers: M/T Ania, M/T Cabo Hellas, M/T Neptune, M/T Overseas Alcesmar, M/T Overseas Cleliamar, M/T Overseas Shirley, M/T Overseas Portland, M/T Pacific Sapphire, M/T Pacific Ruby, M/T Rebecca, M/T Uranus, and M/T Vega.

Prosecutions for violating the environmental laws are one of the primary areas in which corporations are charged with offenses and not just individuals.  Often it is difficult to identify the particular employee responsible for the dumping, and the misconduct can be company wide, involving a number of facilities or vessels, as in this case.  (ph)

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