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Marine Log

March 29, 2007

Car carrier engineers plead guilty in "magic pipe" case

The chief engineers of two American-flagged car-carrier ships based in Baltimore have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the deliberate discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste through "magic pipes" that bypassed required pollution prevention equipment, according to Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew J. McKeown for the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Rod J. Rosenstein.

Stephen Karas, the former chief engineer of the M/V Tanabata (renamed the M/V Resolve) pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and making false statements before U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson.

Deniz Sharpe, the former chief engineer of the M/V Fidelio (renamed the M/V Patriot), pleaded guilty on March 7, 2007 to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution form Ships (APPS).

Both Karas and Sharpe were employed by Pacific Gulf Marine Inc. (PGM), a vessel operator based in Gretna, La.

On January 24, after pleading guilty to charges related to its role in deliberately discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil-contaminated bilge waste from four of its car-carrier, including the Tanabata and Fidelio, PGS was sentenced to pay $1 million criminal fines and $500,000 in community service, and serve three years of probation under the terms of an environmental compliance plan that will be audited by a court-appointed monitor.

According to documents filed in court, including a grand jury indictment and a factual statement signed by Karas, the Tanabata had a removable bypass pipe that was used repeatedly to discharge oil-contaminated bilge waste overboard in violation of the APPS.

Karas admitted to the use of a bypass pipe and to concealing the pipe during port calls in the United States to prevent its discovery by the Coast Guard. Karas also admitted to concealing the unlawful discharges in a false oil record book. The log claimed the discharges were being made through the oily water separator, when in reality it was being bypassed entirely.

During a March 29, 2003 inspection, Coast Guard inspectors in Baltimore lifted a deckplate and found a permanently installed bypass pipe on the Fidelio that was part of the ship's original construction. The Coast Guard directed the removal of the bypass pipe which was filled with black oil, according to papers filed in court.

Sharpe, who was promoted to chief engineer sometime after the inspection, continued making unlawful discharges through a new method that involved the use of a fire pump which were concealed with a false oil record book for the ship.

Another chief engineer of the Tanabata remains under indictment and the investigation is continuing. An indictment represents allegations brought by a grand jury. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

This investigation was conducted by the Chesapeake Regional Office of the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the EPA Criminal Investigation Division. Additional assistance was provided by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe, U.S. Coast Guard Fifth District Legal Office, Coast Guard Office of International and Maritime Law, and Coast Guard Headquarters Office of Investigations and Analysis.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland.

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