OAKLAND – LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – U.S. Attorney Scott Schools announced that yesterday Black Point Shipping, S.p.A, an Italian shipping company, pled guilty to presenting false documents to the United States Coast Guard and agreed to pay a $25,000 criminal fine and $50,000 in restitution. Black Point Shipping is the owner of the Motor Tanker (“M/T”) Black Point, a 27,001-ton ocean-going oil tanker vessel registered in Italy.
In pleading guilty, Black Point Shipping admitted that on or about March 13, 2007, the M/T Black Point made a port call in San Francisco, California, after a cross-Pacific voyage from Japan. Upon arrival, the vessel was boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard for a Port State Control inspection. The Coast Guard inspected the vessel’s operations and its compliance with Federal regulations and international treaty obligations involving safety and environmental protection. After reviewing the vessel’s logbooks with the Chief Officer, Coast Guard inspectors noted that ballast and cargo tank inspections mandated by the International Safety Management Code had not been conducted in 180-day intervals as required by Black Point’s internal Safety Management System.
On March 16, 2007, Coast Guard inspectors returned to the M/T Black Point to review the deficiencies with the Master. During the course of review, the Master indicated that he had records of previous tank inspections and would have offered them had he been asked. The same logbook that had been inspected earlier was produced, but it now contained 18 inspection records that were not previously logged. Later, when alone with the Chief Officer, the Coast Guard inspector asked why new records were created. The Chief Officer replied that he had created the new records after reviewing the ship’s enclosed-space entry certificates which refreshed his memory with regard to inspections that he had made but not logged. The Coast Guard inspector verbally warned the Chief Officer not to retroactively create records.
On March 25, 2007, the Coast Guard inspectors returned to the M/T Black Point to witness an audit by the classification society and flag state representatives and to verify the progress made in correcting the deficiencies. When asked about the tank inspections, the Master stated that he had located many more tank inspection records and inserted them in the logbook. He then produced the same logbook now with approximately 34 apparently new inspection records. The Coast Guard inspectors asked the Master where the documents were found. The Chief Officer said that the records were found in the ship’s cargo control room. The Master then angrily accused the inspectors of questioning his professionalism and integrity and left the room. The Coast Guard inspectors then seized the logs for further review.
In pleading guilty, Black Point Shipping admitted that on or about March 25, 2007, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard, it knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation, that is, presented the Coast Guard with a binder which falsely represented that thirty four ballast and cargo tank inspections had taken place, knowing that such statements and representations were false, fictitious, and fraudulent when made.
Federal Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong sentenced Black Point Shipping to pay a $25,000 criminal fine and $50,000 restitution.
Restitution in this case was directed to be paid into the previously created Northern Coastal California Restoration Fund, which was previously seeded with $800,000 in restitution from three prior criminal cases. The first case was United States v. Hoegh Fleet Services, in which the Norwegian operator of the motor ship the Hoegh Minerva paid $500,000 in restitution into the Fund for violating the False Statement Statute, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and Failing to Maintain an Accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908. The second case was United States v. MMS Co., Ltd., in which the Japanese operator of the motor vessel the Spring Drake paid $200,000 in restitution into the Fund for Failing to Maintain an Accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908. The third case was United States v. Twighlight Marine, Ltd., in which the Maltese owner of the motor vessel the Warrior paid $100,000 in restitution into the Fund for Grossly Negligent Operation of a Vessel, in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 2302(b).
Maureen Bessette is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted all of these cases with the assistance of Cynthia Daniel. The prosecution is the result of a several month investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, and the Coast Guard Legal Office.