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August 23, 2002

Grand jury indicts board members in pollution case

A federal grand jury in Anchorage yesterday indicted a corporate director, two corporate managers, a ship's captain and a first engineer for their roles in an ocean pollution conspiracy involving the direct discharges of oil from a fleet of large, refrigerated cargo ships that regularly travel through Alaska waters, the Justice Department announced. The indictment charges the individuals with conspiracy to lie to the U.S. Coast Guard in order to conceal the dumping of waste oil from the ships and to obstruct the investigation of the agency and the grand jury.

The charges against In Seok Yang, a member of the Board of Directors of Boyang Maritime Kyeong Shin Deep Sea Fisheries Company of Pusan, Korea, are the first such charges to ever have been filed in the United States against a corporate board member for his role in a conspiracy involving vessel pollution. The indictment also charges Gum Hyang Kwon and Young Min Han, two senior shore-side managers at Boyang in Korea, who are likewise among the first on-shore mangers to be charged for their alleged roles in oil discharges that occurred at sea.

"Our oceans are not dumping grounds, yet illegal pollution from ships remains widespread throughout the maritime industry," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are vigorously prosecuting these crimes to deter other polluters and to ensure that the industry fulfills its responsibility to legally dispose of waste when ships come into port."

Corporate Employers Pled Guilty and Agree to Pay $5 Million Dollar Fine

The Justice Department also announced guilty pleas from Boyang Maritime, Boyang Limited, Trans-Ports International (TPI) and Oswego Limited, the companies that operated, managed and controlled the fleet of more than a dozen cargo freighters at issue in this investigation. The corporations pled guilty to being part of a wide-ranging conspiracy designed to hide routine discharges of oil sludge and oil contaminated bilge waste directly into the ocean from their fleet since at least 1995.

The companies pled guilty to a 10-count felony information charging that they worked together to maintain false log books, obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses in order to avoid the expenditure of time, money and other resources that would have been required to comply with the laws designed to prevent oil pollution from ships.

If approved by the court, the defendants will pay a $5 million fine, institute and pay for a comprehensive court-monitored environmental compliance plan and serve five years on probation. The companies are required to set aside an additional $500,000 in an escrow account as an initial funding for the cost of implementing the environmental plan. One million dollars of the fine will be directed to go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, an area that encompasses the Aleutian Islands.

"This prosecution demonstrates the United States' commitment to holding corporate officers accountable for their personal disregard of the law," said Timothy M. Burgess, United States Attorney for the District of Alaska. "The aggressive investigation and prosecution of ships' officers, on-shore managers and international corporations sends a strong message to those who seek to profit from polluting the world's oceans."

Ship's Captain and Two Chief Engineers Already Convicted and Sentenced to Jail

The felony corporate guilty pleas and the filing of charges against corporate managers follow the successful prosecution of Doo Hyun Kim, the Captain of the Khana, In Ho Kim, the Chief Engineer of the Khana, and Je Yong Lee, the Chief Engineer of the Sohoh. These three were arrested and detained in federal custody in February 2002 for falsifying records, obstructing the Coast Guard's inspection and tampering with the ongoing federal grand jury investigation related to the discharge of oil from the vessels under their command.

The court sentenced Lee to eight months imprisonment. Chief engineer In Ho Kim was likewise convicted of creating a false oil record book and witness tampering and was sentenced to six months in prison. Captain Kim was the first ship's captain to be sentenced to jail for crimes arising out of illegal discharges of oil at sea. He was convicted of obstruction of justice for instructing his crew members to lie to investigators about the discharges of oil and the oily bypass hose used on his ship. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

"These indictments and guilty pleas underscore the federal government's resolve to prosecute polluters who use the oceans and shorelines as dumping grounds," said John Peter Suarez, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This Administration will not tolerate illegal behavior that threatens the environment. We will take swift and appropriate actions against those who are responsible whether they are on board or in the boardroom."

"This case is important to Alaskans because it reminds them of the continued role the Coast Guard plays in its traditional marine safety mission of keeping the waters of Alaska pristine in the face of growing economic development," said Rear Admiral James Underwood, Commander of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District. "This case is a shot across the bow of the polluters in the international maritime community. Hopefully, this case will change the way they do business."

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service, the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for Alaska and the Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Department of Justice.

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