July 27, 2004
Maersk engineer enters guilty plea
The United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California announced that Johnnie Nielsen pled guilty on July 23 to concealing and later destroying key documents in anticipation of a pending Coast Guard inspection of the vessel M/V Jane Maersk.
Nielsen, 35, of Copenhagen, Denmark, was charged with one count of the destruction of records, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Û 1519.
In pleading guilty, Nielsen admitted to his role in concealing and later destroying key documents in anticipation of a pending Coast Guard inspection of the vessel M/V Jane Maersk. The inspection was to ensure compliance with international laws regarding oil pollution prevention. The inspection ultimately uncovered evidence that illegal discharges of oil may have occurred on the M/V Jane Maersk.
Nielsen worked aboard the M/V Jane Maersk, which is owned by Partrederiet H668 and operated by A.P. Moller Maersk A/S.
The government's investigation began on May 25, 2004, when members of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office discovered waste oil in the overboard piping of the tanker during a routine inspection. The Coast Guard also found evidence of false entries made in the Oil Record Book ("ORB"), a document required by MARPOL, a treaty ratified and implemented by the United States. MARPOL and U.S. law limit the oil content of discharges from ships to not more than 15 parts per million. To ensure compliance, MARPOL requires that all transfers of oil, disposal of sludge and bilge water, and overboard discharges of bilge water, be fully recorded in the ORB.
As part of the investigation, the second engineer was asked about the existence of the ship's sounding log. The sounding book records daily measurements of tanks aboard a vessel, including tanks that contain oil, waste oil and sludge. These daily measurements are used to calculate and record the transfers, disposals, and discharges of oil, sludge and oily water in the ORB. Nielsen, the second engineer, recorded this information in the ORB aboard the M/V Jane Maersk.
Prior to the Coast Guard boarding, Nielsen removed the sounding log from the engine control room and took it to his private cabin. He further instructed the 3rd engineer to tell the Coast Guard that the vessel did not have nor use a sounding book, when he knew that they had used one as recently as the day prior to the Coast Guard's boarding. At some point, Nielsen returned to his cabin and tore out the relevant pages of the sounding log and threw them in the trash. Discovery of the sounding book could have verified that Nielsen had been making false entries in the ORB, which was presented to the Coast Guard as part of its inspection. False entries in the ORB are often indicative of the illegal discharge of oil overboard.
"This Office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law companies and individuals that violate the law and then try to cover it up," said Kevin Ryan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. "This is especially true when the cover up involves violations of international and U.S. laws designed to protect waters of California and the world."
Nielsen's sentencing of Mr. Nielsen is scheduled for October 25, 2004, before United States Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco. The maximum statutory penalty for violation of this statute is 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. However, the actual sentence will be dictated by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of factors, and will be imposed in the discretion of the Court.
The prosecution is the result of a continuing investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with assistance from the Coast Guard Pacific JAG Office. Stacey Geis and Jim Keller are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted the case.