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Chief Engineer Pleads Guilty in Maryland to Obstructing Investigation into the Illegal Overboard Discharge of Oily Waste
Dimitrios Grifakis, 57, of Kallithea, Greece, pleaded guilty in federal court in Baltimore to obstructing a Coast Guard inspection that took place aboard the M/V Capitola from May 3 to May 11, 2010. Grifakis was then the Chief Engineer of the Capitola.
The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Environment & Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice; Rear Adm. Dean Lee, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard's 5th District; Special Agent in Charge Otis E. Harris, Jr. of the Coast Guard Investigative Service-Chesapeake Region; and Acting Special Agent in Charge Christian Spangenberg of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division.
According to Grifakis’ guilty plea and other court documents, the investigation into the M/V Capitola was launched on May 3, 2010, at the Port of Baltimore, after a crew member informed a clergy member, who was on board the Capitola on a pastoral visit, that there had been “monkey business in the engine room,” which involved a “magic pipe.” The “magic pipe” proved to be a bypass hose that allowed the dumping of waste oil overboard, circumventing pollution prevention equipment required by law. The crew member asked the minister to alert the Coast Guard which triggered an inspection of the Capitola.
Grifakis admitted that from about March 2009 through May 3, 2010, he ordered his subordinates to illegally pump oil-contaminated waste directly into the ocean, most commonly through the “magic pipe.” However, during the investigation, Grifakis falsely denied having ordered anyone to pump oily waste overboard and falsified documents to hide these discharges from inspectors in ports visited by the Capitola.
Every ship that enters the U.S. is required to have an accurate Oil Record Book that records the ship’s operation related to oil, including the handling and disposal of oil contaminated waste. Grifakis intentionally presented an Oil Record Book to the U.S. Coast Guard that was intentionally falsified to conceal the illegal overboard discharges of oil contaminated waste.
Grifakis also obstructed the investigation by denying that the Capitola had a Daily Sounding Record, which is a daily measurement of the contents of the ship’s waste tanks. This record would have been useful during the Coast Guard’s inspection of the Capitola in that it could have shown when the levels of the waste tanks changed, which could be compared to entries in the Oil Record Book. Sudden, unexplained drops in the measurements could have indicated specific dates when wastes were discharged overboard. The Daily Sounding Record was not produced to the Coast Guard. Grifakis also directed other members of the engine room crew to lie to investigators and claim that the Capitola did not have a daily record of soundings.
In a related case, Cardiff Marine Inc., a Liberian-registered shipping company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and was sentenced to pay a $2.4 million fine, and to serve three years probation, subject to an environmental compliance plan that includes audits by an independent third party auditor.
This prosecution was made possible through the combined efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector-Baltimore, the Coast Guard Investigative Service-Baltimore, Coast Guard Fifth District Legal Office, Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law, Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Analysis, EPA Criminal Investigation Division with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The cases were prosecuted by Justin S. Herring, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maryland and Thomas T. Ballantine, Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.