June 18, 2004

Guilty plea after "tricking" Oil Water Separator

Jarnail singh, chief engineer of the Singapore-flag tanker Aral Sea, has pled guilty for his role in concealing the overboard discharges of oil contaminated bilge waste from the ship through false log books and statements designed to deceive the U.S. Coast Guard. The Aral Sea is owned by Harike Shipping, Inc., and operated by Tanker Pacific Management Pte. Ltd.

According to an announcement released yesterday by Thomas L. Sansonetti, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Paula D. Silsby, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine, on May 21, 2004, members of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office discovered waste oil in the overboard piping of the tanker during a routine inspection in Portland.

Chief engineer Singh was asked about the operation of the ship’s Oil Water Separator, [an item of pollution prevention equipment required by the MARPOL convention. MARPOL and U.S. law limit the oil content of discharges from ships to not more than 15 parts per million. The oil water separator is the required equipment that, when operated correctly, will prevent discharges in excess of 15 parts per million.]

Singh told the Coast Guard the Oil Water separator was working properly. Singh also told the Coast Guard inspectors that he did not know how oil could have gotten in the overboard piping.

Upon further investigation, says the U.S. Department of Justice, the Coast Guard learned that while the vessel was at sea, Singh had directed that the Oil Water Separator be “tricked” by running fresh water through a sensor designed to stop discharges containing oil instead of using a sample of the actual discharge. The tricking of the sensor can allow oil in excess of the legal limits to be discharged overboard, and explains the oil found in the overboard piping by the Coast Guard inspectors.

During the course of the Coast Guard inspection, Singh also presented the Oil Record Book, a log required by MARPOL and U.S. law in which all discharges are to be accurately recorded. The log created the false impression that the ship's equipment was being operated properly.

For his false statements and presentation of false records to the Coast Guard during the inspection, Singh faces a maximum penalty of up to five years imprisonment, a fine up to $250,000, and probation for up to three years.

“Today’s plea demonstrates that companies and individuals operating and managing ships in our oceans may not pollute and then lie about it to our government,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Those who seek to deceive authorities will be prosecuted and brought to justice.”

“The integrity of the vessel inspection process, designed to protect the waters of Maine and the world, must be ensured through the swift prosecution of those who lie to the Coast Guard,” said Paula D. Silsby, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service with assistance from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office, the Coast Guard First District Legal Office, and the Coast Guard Head Quarters Office of Investigation and Analysis. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The investigation is continuing.

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