September 29, 2010
Classification surveyor convicted in pollution conspiracy
Hugo Pena, 45, of Miami, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc., of Miami, Ronald Ramon, 45, of Honduras, and Northon Eraso, 66, of Colombia, were convicted September 27 in an oil pollution conspiracy case tried before U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas in Miami.
The Department of Justice says that the "conviction of Pena and HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. represents the first criminal case brought against a classification surveyor for failure to fulfill to its pollution prevention responsibilities in the United States."
The case relates to a 155 ft cargo vessel ISLAND EXPRESS I. According to the Equasis data base, that vessel is a landing craft built in 1999 and has been registered in Panama since April 1, 2010. Previously it was registered in Honduras. Equasis shows the ship's classification society as "other.""
According to the Department of Justice, the jury convicted Pena and HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. of one count of failing to conduct a complete oil pollution prevention survey of the cargo ship ISLAND EXPRESS I, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a), and one count of false official statement, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2).
The jury convicted Ramon of one count of conspiring to fail to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and seventeen counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a).
The jury convicted Eraso of one count of conspiring to fail to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and twenty-five counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a).
According to the evidence admitted at trial, Ramon was the Master of a 155-foot cargo freighter called the M/V ISLAND EXPRESS I. Eraso was its Chief Engineer. Hugo Pena and his company HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. were the ship's classification surveyors. On May 4, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered that the ship's Oil Water Separator was broken. Under the leadership of Ramon and Eraso, the ship's crew pumped the ship's oily waste into the ocean from as early as February 7, 2010, until the Coast Guard's arrival on board. Ramon and Eraso further concealed these discharges of oily waste by falsifying the ship's logs. Additionally, the Coast Guard discovered that on April 15, 2010, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. and Pena went on board the M/V ISLAND EXPRESS I to survey its oil pollution prevention equipment. Despite the fact that the ship's Oil Water Separator was broken, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc. and Pena issued a required certificate for the ship that certified that the ship's pollution prevention equipment was adequate.
On July 16, 2010, in a related but separate criminal information, Coastal Maritime Shipping, LLC, a Fort Lauderdale-based shipping company, also pled guilty to two counts of failure to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, in violation of 33 U.S.C. § 1908(a). U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn later sentenced Coastal Shipping Holding to a $350,000 fine and three years' probation. Judge Cohn also ordered Coastal Shipping Holding to make a $350,000 community service payment. The payment will fund environmental projects and initiatives designed for the benefit, preservation, and restoration of the environment and ecosystems in the waters of South Florida. Coastal Shipping Holding previously pled guilty to two counts of failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book on board the M/V Island Express I.
Sentencing for Pena, HP Maritime Consultants, Inc., Ramon, and Eraso is scheduled on December 3, 2010. Pena, Ramon and Eraso are facing maximum possible sentences of six years' imprisonment. HP Maritime Consultant, Inc. is facing a maximum possible sentence of $500,000 fine.