Sanford found guilty in Pago Pago pollution case

AUGUST 16, 2012 — A federal jury in Washington, D.C., yesterday returned guilty verdicts against New Zealand fisheries giant Sanford Ltd. on six counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). The jury also found a company employee guilty of two other charges.

The company was found not guilty of one obstruction of justice charge.

Judge Beryl A. Howell scheduled sentencing for Nov. 16, 2012. Sanford faces a maximum fine of up to $500,000 on each count, for a total potential penalty of $3.0 million. However, during the trial, the U.S. Government withdrew a forfeiture claim against Sanford for the $24 million proceeds from the fish catch covering the period of the allegations.

Sanford's primary chief engineer, James Pogue, 52, faces up to up to 20 years for obstruction of justice and six years for knowingly failing to maintain an accurate oil record book.

The verdicts, following a two-week trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, were announced by Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno of the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr.

Judge Beryl A. Howell scheduled sentencing for Nov. 16, 2012. Sanford faces a maximum fine of up to $500,000 on each count, for a total potential penalty of $3.0 million.

According to the government's evidence, in July 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a Port State Control examination on the Fishing Vessel (F/V) San Nikunau, when the vessel entered port in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The examination revealed that the vessel had been making false entries and omissions in its oil record book .

According to evidence presented at trial, Sanford operates the San Nikunau a vessel that routinely delivers tuna to a cannery in Pago Pago. Over the past five years, Sanford was paid over $24 million for tuna deliveries. Sanford was convicted of numerous charges, including conspiracy and causing the vessel to enter to the port of Pago Pago with a falsified oil record book that failed to accurately account for how the vessel was managing its bilge waste and for obstruction of justice for falsely stating in the oil record book that required pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not. Sanford was also convicted of discharging machinery space bilge waste into the port of Pago Pago without using required pollution prevention equipment including the oil water separator.

Mr. Pogue, of Idaho, served as the chief engineer on the vessel between 2001 and 2010. He was convicted of failing to maintain an oil record book for the vessel that accurately accounted for how the vessel was managing its bilge waste. In addition, Mr. Pogue was convicted of obstruction of justice for falsely stating in the oil record book that required pollution prevention equipment had been used when it had not.

Prior to the trial, Rolando Ong Vano, 51, of the Philippines, another chief engineer who worked on the vessel, pleaded guilty to charges in the case. He is to be sentenced Sept. 7, 2012.

"These verdicts hold a company and one of its chief engineers accountable for polluting the waters off American Samoa with oily waste, and then trying to cover up their acts," said U.S. Attorney Machen. "The prosecution demonstrates our commitment to enforcing environmental laws and protecting our precious natural resources."

This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Kenneth E. Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick W. Yette of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.

Michael Chalos from the New York based law firm of Chalos O'Connor LLP and Gregory Linsin from the Washington D.C law firm of Blank Rome LLP represented Sanford Limited in the federal court action.

After the trial, Sanford Managing Director Eric Barratt said from Washington that the decision was naturally disappointing but the case highlights the need to work diligently to properly maintain the required logs and records regarding the management of oily wastes aboard vessels.