Odfjell cops plea in pollution case

MARCH 5, 2014 — The U.S.Department of Justice reports that Singapore-based Odfjell Asia II Pte Ltd (Odfjell) and one of its senior crew members pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Hartford, CT, for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

Under the terms of a binding plea agreement, if accepted by the court, odfjell will be placed on probation for a period of three years and pay a criminal penalty totaling $1.2 million, including $300,000 that will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects aimed at the preservation and restoration of the marine environment of Long Island Sound.

"The defendants violated environmental laws that protect our oceans, the world's fisheries and marine life, from harmful pollution," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division Robert G. Dreher. "Today's conviction ensures they will be held accountable with a stiff criminal fine, contribute to conservation efforts in coastal areas of Long Island, and submit to strict monitoring. We hope this sends a strong message to the shipping industry that committing environmental crimes at sea will not be tolerated."

According to court documents and statements made in court, Odfjell operated the M/T Bow Lind, a 577-foot, 26,327 gross ton petroleum/chemical tanker ship. On Nov. 6, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel in New Haven, CT, to conduct an inspection. The inspection and subsequent criminal investigation revealed that three times between October 2011 and October 2012, while in international waters, the vessel discharged machinery space bilge water directly into the sea.

At the direction of senior engineer Ramil Leuterio, crew members bypassed pollution prevention equipment that was in place to ensure that any discharged bilge water contain less than 15 parts per million of oil. The crew then concealed the illegal discharges by making misleading entries and omissions in the vessel's oil record book.

According to several engine room crew members, Leuterio directed them to use a complex system to transfer the bilge water from the bilge holding tank to the sewage tank. From the sewage tank, the bilge water was dumped directly into the sea without passing through pollution prevention equipment. Once the bilge holding tank was emptied, Leuterio directed the lower ranking crew members to put clean fresh water and salt water into the tank. As the pollution prevention equipment automatically records the time it is being operated, Leuterio then processed the clean water through the equipment, thereby creating an electronic record to account for the bilge water that had bypassed the equipment and been discharged directly overboard.

As a condition of probation, Odfjell will implement an environmental management plan which will ensure that any ship operated by Odfjell calling on a port of the United States complies with all maritime environmental requirements established under applicable international, flag state, and port state laws. The plan ensures that Odfjell's employees and the crew of any vessel operated by Odfjell that calls on a United States port are properly trained in preventing maritime pollution. An independent monitor will report to the court regarding ODFJELL's compliance with these obligations during the period of probation.

Leuterio, 42, a citizen of the Philippines, pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of violating APPS for his role in directing lower ranking crewmembers to make the illegal discharges and for failing to accurately maintain the vessel's oil record book. He faces a maximum term of imprisonment of six years and a fine of up to $250,000.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant has scheduled sentencing for May 14, 2014.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, Coast Guard Investigative Service, and Coast Guard office of Investigations and Analysis (CG-INV). The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte in the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. McConnell from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut.