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July 6, 2010

Two Louisiana maritime firms face federal charges

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana brought charges against two maritime companies in two separate cases on July 2, 2010.

The companies charged are DRD Towing of Harvey, La. (along with its part owner, Randall Dantin, age 46, of Marrero, La.) and Offshore Service Vessels, LLC, (formerly titled Edison Chouest Offshore Vessels, LLC) headquartered in Galliano, La.

In the DRD Towing case, the company was charged in a two-count Bill of Information for violating the Ports and Waterways Safety Act and the Clean Water Act, while Mr. Dantin was charged a separate one-count Bill of Information with obstruction of justice.

Count 1 charges DRD Towing with creating hazardous conditions in violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA), 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.

In count 2, DRD Towing is charged with the illegal negligent discharge of oil on July 23, 2008. At approximately 1:30 A.M. on July 23, 2008, 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 on count one is a maximum fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the criminal offense. On count two, it facesa fine of up to $200,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the criminal offense.

Mr. Dantin is charged with obstruction of justice for causing the deletion from a DRD Towing laptop computer of "electronic payroll sheets" that were material to the Coast Guard Hearing convened to investigate the collision on between the M/V Mel Oliver and M/T Tintomara.

If convicted, Mr. Dantin faces a maximum penalty of five (5) years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.

In the Offshore Service Vessels case, the company was charged in a Bill of Information for discharging oily wastewater from the bilge tank of the R/V Gould overboard on the high seas, announced U. S. Attorney Jim Letten and the Justice Department.

According to the Bill, OSV owned and operated the R/V Laurence M.Gould, an American-flagged vessel that served as an ice-breaking research vessel working under contract for a national foundation [the National Science Foundation]. The Bill alleges that from July, 2005 through September, 2005, oily waste water that was generated aboard the R/V Gould was stored in the bilge water holding tank which had a capacity of approximately 12,000 gallons. When the bilge water tank could receive no more wastewater contaminated with oil, crew members intermittently discharged the oil wastewater from the bilge tank overboard without first passing through the Oily Water Separator.

If convicted, OSV faces a maximum fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the criminal offense.

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