The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana reports that Empire Bulkers Limited and Joanna Maritime Limited, two related companies based in Greece, were sentenced today for committing knowing and willful violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and the Ports and Waterways Safety Act related to their role as the operator and owner of the motor vessel M/V Joanna.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon sentenced the companies to pay $2 million ($1 million each) and serve four years of probation subject to the terms of a government approved environmental compliance plan that includes independent ship audits and supervision by a court-appointed monitor.
The two had entered guilty pleas in the case back in May 2022.
The prosecution stems from a March 2022 inspection of the M/V Joanna in New Orleans that revealed that required pollution prevention equipment had been tampered with to allow fresh water to trick the sensor designed to detect the oil content of bilge waste being discharged overboard. The ship’s oil record book had been falsified to conceal the improper discharges.
During the same inspection, the Coast Guard also discovered an unreported safety hazard. Following a trail of oil drops, inspectors found an active fuel oil leak in the engine room where the pressure relief valves on the fuel oil heaters, a critical safety device necessary to prevent explosion, had been disabled. In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that the plugging of the relief valves in the fuel oil purifier room and the large volume of oil leaking from the pressure relief valve presented hazardous conditions that had not been immediately reported to the Coast Guard in violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act. Had there been a fire or explosion in the purifier room, it could have been catastrophic and resulted in a loss of propulsion, loss of life, and pollution, according to a joint factual statement filed in court.
The Department of Justice today released the 10-page joint factual statement signed in connection with the filing of the guilty plea and it spells out in detail what the Coast Guard found aboard the M/V Joanna.
On its website, Empire Bulkers says: “Our objective is to manage modern ships which operate in the dry cargo markets. As managers of such ships, we are committed to maintain highest standards of quality based on continuously improving safety culture.” It also spells out its “Quality Policy,” which includes “complying with applicable statutory requirements, international legislation and classification society requirements related to the services provided “ and “operating vessels without accident(s) or incident(s) that could endanger company’s employees, the environment or assets under the company’s care.”