German Shipping Companies Plead Guilty in Environmental Case

The companies acknowledged Coast Guard examiners took oil samples from the oil/water separator's overboard discharge valve and from the vessel's sludge tank and the samples from the two locations matched. Under U.S. and international law, sludge is never to be discharged through an oil/water separator, EPA reported.

EPA announced that two German shipping companies pleaded guilty Oct. 25 to an environmental crime in federal court in San Diego before Judge Jan M. Adler. W. Bockstiegel Reederei GmbH & Co. KG, which operated the Motor Vessel Nils B, and W. Bockstiegel GmbH & Co. Reederei KG MS "NILS B," which owned it, pleaded guilty to one felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain an oil record book for the ship and failed to disclose that oil-contaminated water had been discharged into the ocean from the ship without the use of pollution prevention equipment.

Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden and U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced the plea agreement. EPA report that, on Aug. 5, 2014, personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel after its entry into the Port of San Diego and found the crew had failed to keep an oil record book for a significant period of time, modifications had been made to piping coming from the oil/water separator, and oil was discovered in discharge piping that should not have been present.

The companies acknowledged Coast Guard examiners took oil samples from the separator's overboard discharge valve and from the vessel's sludge tank and the samples from the two locations matched. "Under U.S. and international law, sludge is never to be discharged through an oil water separator," EPA reported. "The Coast Guard also discovered a black hose near the oil water separator that contained oil slightly weathered light fuel oil mixed with lubricating oil. In the industry, such a hose is known as a 'magic hose.' The defendants, in pleading guilty, admitted that the oil record book on board the vessel did not disclose any discharges of sludge between the time that the overboard discharge valve had been cleaned while the vessel was in dry dock in June of 2014 and its entry into the Port of San Diego in August."

Sentencing has been set for Nov. 3. In the plea documents, the company and the United States agreed to recommend that the court impose a total criminal penalty of $750,000, of which $250,000.00 will be a community service payment for the benefit of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve to further research related to the effects of pollution on the marine estuarine environment. The case was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and EPA Criminal Investigation Division personnel in San Diego.

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