MMS CO. IS LATEST SHIPPING COMPANY TO BE SUBJECT TO MULTIMILLION DOLLAR FINES FOR DUMPING OIL WASTES
MMS Co. Ltd., a Japanese ship management company, pleaded guilty today to four felony charges for failing to follow federal water pollution prevention laws by routinely dumping oily wastewater from one of its ships.
MMS pleaded guilty to charges brought by United States Attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. MMS entered the guilty pleas today in United States District Court in Portland. The case filed in Los Angeles alleged that MMS failed to accurately maintain oil pollution records onboard the M/V Spring Drake.
MMS operates the Spring Drake, a 27,000 gross ton bulk cargo ship that sails under a Panamanian flag. Large ships such as the Spring Drake generate waste oil from a variety of sources, including the process to purify the heavy fuel oil used to power the ship. Like other ships of its size, the Spring Drake has equipment, including an “oily water separator,” to process oil wastes. Federal and international laws require that oily water be processed through the oily water separator so that any water discharged into the sea contains less than 15 parts per million of oil. In addition to maintaining equipment such as the oily water separator, United States law requires ships like the Spring Drake that enter U.S. waters to maintain an “Oil Record Book” that documents all transfers of oil on the ship, including discharges to the sea.
Crew members on the Spring Drake, operating under the authority of the ship’s chief engineer, used a bypass device called a “magic pipe” that allowed them to pump inadequately treated oil-contaminated wastewater directly into the ocean.
The Spring Drake was in Portland on January 30 picking up a load of wheat. A routine inspection by the United States Coast Guard revealed evidence that the ship was violating international ocean pollution regulations. Over the past year, the Spring Drake had made port calls in Long Beach and Alameda, California.
On February 5, a federal grand jury in Portland indicted MMS; Grus Line Shipping SA, a Panama company and the owner of the Spring Drake; and Shashank Pendse, a resident of India and the chief engineer of the Spring Drake. On March 8, Pendse pleaded guilty to a felony charge of knowingly failing to accurately record discharges and disposals of oily wastes in the ship’s Oil Record Book, and he was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison. Today guilty pleas resolve the case against the two corporate entities.
As part of the global plea agreement in this case, MMS has agreed to pay a total of $2 million in fines. In the Los Angeles case, the fine will be $500,000, half of which will be earmarked to support the Island Fox Recovery Project underway at the Channel Islands National Park.
In addition to the criminal fines that were imposed today in Portland, MMS has agreed to adopt, implement and fund an Environmental Management System/Compliance Plan to prevent future environmental pollution by MMS’s ships.
This case is the latest in a series of cases brought by the United States Attorneys Offices on the West Coast as part of a coordinated vessel pollution initiative. The initiative involves cooperation between the United States Attorneys Offices, the Untied States Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology.