Mar 09, 2004

Company Fined $2M for Polluting Ocean

The owners of a cargo ship that illegally discharged waste oil into the Pacific Ocean were fined $2 million yesterday, and a chief engineer was sentenced to one month in prison.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman said he wants shipping corporations and their crews to understand the consequences of breaking pollution laws.

Owners of MMS Co. Ltd., the Japanese corporation that owns the Spring Drake, will pay the fine and take part in a court-supervised compliance plan as part of the agreement reached with federal prosecutors.

The fine is the largest paid by a corporation accused in Oregon of polluting the ocean.

The prosecution is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to police ocean polluters. Such dumping can poison and kill marine life, foul beaches and is considered a threat to human health, officials say.

It is a violation of international treaty to knowingly discharge oil in harmful quantities at sea and to cover up the actions.

Pendse on Monday pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an accurate oil record book, which is supposed to document the disposal of sludge and bilge water.

According to federal officials, the falsely reported that sludge had been burned in the ship's incinerator and that bilge water had been properly discharged. The sludge and bilge water actually were dumped into the ocean, officials said.

Inspectors at the Portland docks first suspected the discharge when they noticed pipes designed to release the water were oily – an indication the ship was expelling pollutants.

Ships generally burn bunker oil, a refined fuel that is purified as it is used. The treatment process generates sludge – oil, dirt, water and other impurities – that is drained and stored before the fuel is burned. Any waste lubricants and oily discharge that wash into the ship bilge tank are supposed to be collected and treated onboard or pumped off in port.

But because the process of maintaining the disposal and treatment system is expensive and time-consuming, shipping companies all too often bypass the pollution-prevention equipment, according to state and federal inspectors.