Dumped sludge, lied to USCG, found guilty

NOVEMBER 12, 2015 — A federal jury in Mobile, AL, has convicted Norwegian shipowner Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab AS (DSD Shipping) and three of its senior engineering officers — Bo Gao, Xiaobing Chen and Xin Zhong — with obstructing justice, violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), witness tampering and conspiracy. A fourth employee, Daniel Paul Dancu, pleaded guilty in October.

 

According to the Department of Justice, evidence presented during the two-week trial demonstrated that in January 2010, DSD Shipping knew that the oily-water separator aboard its106,541 dwt crude oil tanker Stavanger Blossom was inoperable. In an internal corporate memo, DSD Shipping noted that the device could not properly filter oil-contaminated waste water and stated that individuals "could get caught for polluting" if the problem was not addressed. Rather than repair or replace the oily-water separator, however, DSD Shipping used various methods to bypass the device and force the discharge of oily-wastes into the ocean. During the last months of the vessel's operation prior to its arrival in the Port of Mobile, the M/T Stavanger Blossom discharged approximately 20,000 gallons of oil-contaminated waste water.

The evidence at trial also established that DSD Shipping employees intentionally discharged fuel oil sludge directly into the ocean. Specifically, crew members cleaned the vessel's fuel oil sludge tank, removed approximately 264 gallons of sludge and placed the waste oil into plastic garbage bags. After hiding the sludge bags aboard the ship from port authorities in Mexico, defendants Chen and Zhong ordered crew members to move as many as 100 sludge bags to the deck of the vessel. There, Zhong threw the sludge bags overboard directly into the ocean.

The Department of Justice says that DSD Shipping, Dancu, Gao, Chen and Zhong, all attempted to hide these discharges from the U.S. Coast Guard by making false and fictitious entries in the vessel's oil record book and garbage record book. Further, after arriving in Mobile, Chen and Zhong lied to the U.S. Coast Guard about the discharge of sludge and ordered lower ranking crewmembers to do the same.

At the conclusion of trial, DSD Shipping was convicted of one count of conspiracy, three counts of violating APPS, three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering. Defendant Gao was convicted of one count of conspiracy and two counts of obstruction of justice. Defendant Chen was convicted of one count of violating APPS, three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering. Finally, Zhong was convicted of two counts of violating APPS, two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering.

DSD Shipping could be fined up to $500,000 per count, in addition to other possible penalties. Gao, Chen and Zhong face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice charges

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile, U.S. Coast Guard District Eight, CGIS and the EPA, Criminal Investigations Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Anderson, with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama, and the Department of Justice's Environmental Crimes Section Trial Attorney Shane N. Waller prosecuted the case.

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