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October 12, 2005

Another "magic pipe" indictment

A federal grand jury in Massachusetts last week indicted the chief engineer of the containership M/V MSC Elena.

Mani Singh, 57, an Indian national, was charged with conspiracy, obstruction, destruction of evidence, false statements and violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships in connection with the use of a secretly concealed "magic pipe" used to discharge sludge and oil contaminated waste overboard.

The indictment was announced by Michael J. Sullivan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts; Kelly A. Johnson, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division; and William Schenkelberg, Special Agent in Charge of the Northeast Region of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, announced the Grand Jury's Indictment of MANI SINGH, age 57, of India.

According to the Indictment, bypass equipment, referred to as the "magic pipe" was used to circumvent required pollution prevention equipment. This equipment was discovered by the U.S. Coast Guard during an inspection of the vessel in Boston Harbor on May 16, 2005.

Singh is charged in the Indictment with making false statements to the Coast Guard denying knowledge about the existence and use of the bypass equipment, with obstructing justice by directing subordinates to lie to the Coast Guard, with concealing evidence, and with concealing the discharges in a falsified oil record book, a required log in which all overboard discharges must be recorded.

The indictment further alleges that after the Coast Guard found bypass equipment hidden in a void space, Singh directed that a printout from the ship's computer and a rough log of actual tank volumes be concealed in an effort to cover up the falsification of ship records. It is alleged that the Coast Guard inspectors were presented with fictitious logs containing false entries claiming the use of the oil water separator and omitting any reference to dumping overboard using the bypass equipment.

According to the Indictment, Singh was the Chief Engineer on the MSC Elena, a Panamanian registered 30,971 ton container ship operated by MSC Ship Management (Hong Kong) Limited. The MSC Elena made regular voyages from ports in Europe to ports in the United States, including Boston.

Engine room operations on board large oceangoing vessels such as the MSC Elena generate large amounts of waste oil. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste oil without treatment by an oil water separator--a required pollution prevention device. The regime also requires all overboard discharges be recorded in an oil record book, a required log which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard. The waste oil may be burned on board through the use of an incinerator or offloaded onto barges or shore side facilities for disposal.

According to the Indictment, on taking over responsibility as chief engineer in March 2005, Singh asked to be informed of the "magic pipe" arrangement on the MSC Elena and, once informed, directed that it be used to discharge waste overboard. It is alleged that both sludge and oil contaminated bilge waste were discharged overboard through the bypass equipment and without the use of the oil water separator.

If convicted, Singh faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, five years in prison on the obstruction charge, five years in prison on the false statements charge, 20 years in prison on the destruction of evidence charge, and five years in prison on the violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

The investigation is continuing.

This investigation was conducted by the New England Regional Office of the Coast Guard Investigative Service with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke M. Reid in Sullivan's office, and Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell and Trial Attorney Malinda R. Lawrence of the Department of Justice's Environmental Crimes Section.