August 11, 2004

Three crew members get $1 million whistleblower reward

Sabine Transportation Company of Cedar rapids, Iowa, has been hit with a $2 million fine for illegally dumping thousands of gallons of waste oil, hundreds of tons of diesel-contaminated grain, and plastic wastes at sea

Sabine Transportation is a member of the Stickle Group of Companies, which bought five ships and the right to use the Sabine name from the original Sabine Towing & Transportation Company in 1998,

Yesterday, Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Charles W. Larson, Sr., U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, announced that Sabine Transportation had admitted it deliberately dumped waste oil, sludge, and oily mixtures from the S/S Trinity, the S/S Juneau, the S/S Sea Princess, and the S/S Colorado without the use of required pollution prevention equipment.

The deliberate discharges were then concealed in false Oil Record Books, required logs in which all overboard discharges must be accurately recorded and which are regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sabine also admitted that, on a significant number of other occasions, the company falsified Oil Record Books and deliberately dumped oily wastes from other vessels in its fleet.

The government learned about the illegal dumping aboard Sabine ships from crew members who served aboard the S/S Trinity and the S/S Juneau.

Two S/S Trinity crew members told the U.S. Coast Guard about the illegal dumping of thousands of gallons of contaminated diesel fuel when the vessel arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, in June 1998.

A S/S Juneau crew member advised the Coast Guard in Portland, Oregon, in March 1999 that hundreds of tons of diesel-contaminated wheat had been dumped into the ocean. The resulting nation-wide investigation revealed that illegal dumping occurred with frequency aboard a number of the vessels operated by Sabine.

At sentencing, prosecutors informed the court that the whistleblowers risked their careers with Sabine and within the industry by coming forward, and they qualified for a statutory reward.

U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett ordered Sabine Transportation Company to pay a $2 million fine and serve three years probation.

Judge Bennett also awarded a total of $1 million of the fine to the three former Sabine crew members who reported the crimes to the government.

The reward, granted under a provision that allows a court to award up to one-half of a criminal fine to those providing information leading to conviction, is the second award of $1 million dollars or more issued to crew member whistle blowers within the past week.

"This case should send a message that polluting our environment and lying to the government will not be tolerated," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Last year, Sabine also pled guilty in the Eastern District of Louisiana to a violation of the Clean Water Act based on the dumping of hundreds of tons of rust scale, tank cleaning wastes, and other oily wastes into the Mississippi River during a tank cleaning operation.

The prosecution is part of a longstanding initiative by the Department of Justice, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA, to detect and deter crimes related to deliberate pollution caused by ships.

The case was investigated by Special Agents of EPA's Region VII Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution was handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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