A million dollars is not something many companies can afford to lose. As a recent Japanese cargo-vessel company discovered, there is a steep price to be paid for illegally discharging pollutants and covering up the activity. Here’s what happened:
In May 2017, U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the Atlantic Oasis, a bulk carrier operated by Nitta Kisen Kaisha (Nitta). The inspection revealed that crew members were dumping oily waste through hidden hoses off the coast of North Carolina. Nitta admitted to discharging the pollutants and trying to cover up its actions with falsified records.
Nitta Kisen Kaisha was criminally prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Ultimately, the company agreed to pay a $1 million fine and is serving a three-year probationary sentence during which a comprehensive Court-ordered Environmental Compliance Plan will be implemented aboard all vessels within the company’s fleet. In addition, Nitta’s chief engineer, the individual tasked with ensuring environmental protection practices are followed at sea, was criminally charged, convicted, fined and sentenced to one-year probation. A license suspension and/or revocation proceeding is expected to follow.
The fines and penalties levied are intended to deter vessel owners, managers and their employees from polluting the ocean. U.S. authorities aggressively prosecute those who violate the U.S. Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the domestic law which implements the MARPOL treaty.
As reported by the “Wall Street Journal,” the Justice Department has convicted at least 140 firms for pollution crimes since the late 1990s, with fines totaling in excess of $475 million. The 2016 conviction of Carnival Corp.’s Princess Cruise Lines for pollution and falsifying logs resulted in the largest fine imposed to date: a massive $40 million.
The Risks (Don’t Take Them)
The risks of disobeying U.S. and international pollution laws are too high. Aside from the obvious damage to the environment, the steep fines, strict penalties, and smear on your company’s reputation can cause irreparable harm. The well-regarded and industry-leading MARPOL defense lawyer, George Chalos of Chalos & Co - International Law Firm, has shared, “there is no justification for any person or company to internationally pollute the ocean and no excuse to cover up any accidental discharge. Environmental compliance training, awareness and reporting protocols are critical to discovering and responding to issues when needed. Knowledge is power and all persons and companies calling at U.S. ports should take note.”
Safe Harbor can help you understand the complexities of international and federal pollution laws and how to best protect your interests. We provide comprehensive coverage for both the vessel owner and operator in the event of spills, or the threat of spills.