September 14, 2010
DRD Towing enters guilty plea
Back on July 28, 2008, a tank barge pushed by the M/V Mel Oliver, owned by DRD Towing Company, LLC., of Harvey, La,was involved in a collision with the Liberian-flag tanker Tintomara that resulted in a massive discharge of fuel oil from the barge and an extended closure of the Mississippi River. A preliminary Coast Guard investigation found that the crew member piloting the Mel Oliver held an apprentice mate's license.
More than two years later, on September 8, 2010, according to U. S. Attorney Jim Letten, DRD Towing Company, pled guilty in federal court in New Orleans before U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle to a felony violation of Ports and Waterways Safety Act and a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. In addition, Randall Dantin, age 46, a resident of Marrero, La., and co-owner of DRD Towing pled guilty to a separate charge of obstruction of justice.
According to the court documents, DRD Towing pled guilty to creating hazardous conditions by
1) assigning employees without proper Coast Guard licenses to operate certain vessels thereby causing these vessels to operate in the navigable waters of the United States with manning levels below those determined by the Coast Guard to be necessary for safe navigation, and
2) paying licensed captains to operate a vessel for 24 hour a day without a relief captain, knowing that the Coast Guard viewed the use of over-fatigued mariners operating tugboats and barges to be a hazardous condition that would not allow for safe operation of the vessel. The statutory standard related to fatigue was that operators were prohibited from working for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period.
DRD also pled guilty to the illegal negligent discharge of oil on July 23, 2008 admitting that the M/V Mel Oliver, owned by DRD, was pushing a tanker barge full of fuel oil when it crossed in the path of the M/T Tintomara, a 600-foot Liberian-flagged tanker ship and caused a collision which resulted in the negligent discharge of approximately 282,686 gallons of fuel oil from the barge into the Mississippi River.
The maximum penalty DRD TOWING faces as to count one is a maximum fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the criminal offense, and as to count two, a fine of up to $200,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the criminal offense. Sentencing has been set for December 15, 2010.
In the second case, Dantin pled guilty admitting to obstruction of justice for causing the deletion from a DRD Towing laptop computer of "electronic payroll sheets" which were material to the Coast Guard Hearing convened to investigate the collision between the M/V Mel Oliver and M/T Tintomara.
Dantin faces a maximum penalty of five (5) years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing has been set for December 8, 2010.
Commenting on the pleas, Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's Criminal Enforcement for the Louisiana region, said they demonstrated "our commitment to hold accountable those violators who damage the environment and, at the same time, endanger their workers by placing them in harm's way. DRD Towing has a history of operating undermanned vessels that are often staffed with unqualified personnel. This manner of 'doing business' is both dangerous and criminal and will not be tolerated."
Rear Admiral Mary Landry, Eighth District Coast Guard Commander stated: "The failure to comply with marine pollution laws and merchant marine licensing requirements can't be tolerated by the maritime industry or the citizens of the United States. Ensuring the safety of our fellow mariners and protecting the marine environment are cornerstones of the Coast Guard's mission. This case clearly demonstrates the Coast Guard's commitment to work with our interagency partners to aggressively enforce maritime anti-pollution and safety laws, and provides a testament to the dedication of all persons who were involved in resolving this matter - including the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the U. S. Department of Justice, and the U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana."