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December 10, 2009

Theotokos whistleblowers awarded $540,000

Nine former crew members of the tanker Theotokos have been awarded $540,000.

The nine gave information that led to a guilty plea and the conviction of the tanker's operator, Polembros Shipping, for violating anti-pollution laws, ship safety laws, and making false statements during a U.S. Coast Guard investigation.

Yesterday, Polembros., a ship management company headquartered in Greece, was sentenced in federal court in New Orleans to pay a $2.7 million criminal fine in the case, plus a separate $100,000 community service payment to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and to serve three years probation. As a condition of the probation, all ships owned or managed by Polembros, currently 20 vessels, will be barred from entering U.S. ports and territorial waters for three years.

Polembros pleaded guilty on Sept. 30, 2009, to violating two counts of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships: one count in connection with failing to maintain an accurate oil record book for the cargo ship M/V Theotokos, and the other concerning the carrying of fuel oil in a tank forward of the collision barrier; violating the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, by failing to maintain accurate ballast water records; violating the Ports of Waterways Safety Act, by failing to report hazardous condition of the crack on the rudder stem of the ship; and making false statements by concealing the fact that fuel oil was leaking into the forepeak ballast tank.

The investigation into the M/V Theotokos led to the first criminal prosecutions under the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act. The false statement charge related to the crew's attempt to conceal the fact that fuel oil was leaking into the forepeak ballast tank.

Additionally, on Oct. 15, 2009, Panagiotis Lekkas, the master and highest ranking officer aboard the ship, was sentenced to ten months confinement, a $4,000 fine, and a three year ban on entering U.S. ports and territorial waters, for his role in the obstruction of justice, as well as violations of environmental and ship safety laws.

On Oct. 1, Charles P. Posas, the vessel's chief officer, was sentenced to probation and a three year ban from U.S. ports and territorial waters for one count of false statement and one count of violating the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act.

In another related case, on Nov. 5, 2009, the chief engineer, Georgios Stamou, was sentenced to pay a $15,000 fine and a term of probation including a five year ban on entering U.S. ports and territorial waters, after pleading guilty to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one felony violation for making a false statement.


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