Polembros Shipping to Pay $2.7 M for Pollution, Safety Issues

Polembros Shipping LTD., a ship management company headquartered in Greece, was sentenced Dec. 9 in federal court in New Orleans to pay a $2.7 million criminal fine for violating anti-pollution laws, ship safety laws, and making false statements during a U.S. Coast Guard investigation of the M/V Theotokos, the Justice Department announced.

Additionally, Polembros was ordered to pay a separate $100,000 community service payment to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, a subunit of Smithsonian Institute. The money will be used to research and mitigate the effects of marine invasive species suspected to be transported in ballast waters of ocean-going vessels. Invasive species can threaten native species and damage the ecosystems of the United States.

The court further ordered Polembros 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.

Additionally, the court awarded a total of $540,000 to nine former crew members of the Theotokos who extensively cooperated in the investigation and gave information that led to the guilty plea and conviction of Polembros. Congress granted courts the power to award a "monetary payment" or "whistleblower award" for up to one-half of any criminal fine imposed under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

"The terms of probation and penalties imposed by the court will prevent the company from putting the health of the territorial ports and waterways of the United States at risk while the company benefits from economic activity in our nation’s waters," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The industry should take notice that the Justice Department and our investigative counterparts will continue to prosecute and seek penalties for those who violate our nation’s environmental laws."

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 10 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.

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