Tuesday, April 29, 2014

German Shipper Fined for Oil Leaks at POLB

By Mark Edward Nero

A German shipping company has been sentenced to pay a total of $1.25 million in fines and penalties after pleading guilty to two felony environmental charges related to a cargo ship that entered the Port of Long Beach last year with an open crack in its hull that may have caused oil to leak into the port.

On April 24, ship owner Herm, Dauelsberg GmbH & Co. KG pleaded guilty to a felony count of failing to maintain accurate records relating to the overboard disposal of fuel oil and to a felony count of failing to report a hazardous condition aboard the container ship M/V Bellavia to the United States Coast Guard.

After its plea, the company was fined $1 million by United States District Judge George H. Wu, plus ordered to pay an additional $250,000 to support environmental causes.

The US Attorney’s Office says this case was initiated after four members of the M/V Bellavia crew provided “significant information” to the United States Coast Guard, including pictures and videos of discharges from a fuel tank into the ocean. Wu, under a federal law that allows a federal judge to award up to half of any criminal fine to whistleblowers who provide information concerning certain environmental crimes aboard vessels, ordered that the four crewmembers receive a total of $500,000 from the $1 million fine.

The M/V Bellavia is a 960-foot-long, Panamax-size ship that normally transports cargo between European, Central American and North American ports. In 2011, it sustained cracks in its hull while transiting through the Panama Canal. On an unknown number of occasions over the past three years, the hull cracks opened to such an extent that seawater could enter one of the ship’s fuel tanks, according to the US Attorney’s office. As a result of the damage, the US Attorney says, bunker fuel could have been released from the fuel tank into the sea.

Herm Dauelsberg admitted in legal documents that the M/V Bellavia hit the side of the Panama Canal again in September 2013 and sustained a crack that passed through the ship’s hull into a fuel tank. The company also admitted that after sustaining the crack, the ship’s crew used a pump to discharge nearly 120,000 gallons of oil-contaminated seawater from the ship’s fuel tank directly into the ocean and that the discharge was not done using the ship’s oil-water separator, which is supposed to filter oil out of water that is pumped overboard. The ship’s crew then failed to properly record the discharge in the ship’s records and didn’t disclose it to the Coast Guard – both of which are required by federal law – when the ship arrived in the Port of Long Beach in October 2013.

The company also admitted that it failed to notify the Coast Guard about the crack that passed through the ship’s hull into the fuel tank.

In addition to the $1 million fine, the company was ordered to pay $250,000 to the Channel Islands Natural Resources Protection Fund, which is administered by the National Park Foundation. The payment is to be used to fund environmental projects, enforcement efforts and initiatives designed for the enforcement of environmental and public safety regulations.