U.S. agrees to $725,000 settlement in fishing vessel pollution case

Written by Nick Blenkey
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San Diego-based JM Fisheries LLC, G.S. Fisheries Inc., the companies’ manager, and the chief engineer of the commercial fishing vessel Capt. Vincent Gann have agreed to pay a total of $725,000 in civil penalties to settle federal Clean Water Act claims related to oil pollution violations. The companies and their manager have also agreed to perform corrective measures to prevent future Clean Water Act violations.

Working with the Coast Guard, the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii against JM Fisheries LLC, G.S. Fisheries Inc., the company manager James Sousa (the founder of JM Fisheries LLC, and the sole officer and shareholder of G.S. Fisheries Inc,) and vessel chief engineer Edward DaCosta, The complaint was filed along with a proposed consent decree resolving the allegations in the complaint against the companies and manager and a stipulated settlement agreement resolving the allegations against the chief engineer.

The United States alleges in the complaint that, on April 20, 2018, the defendants discharged oil and oily mixtures from the fishing vessel Capt. Vincent Gann’s engine room bilge into Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa, while performing repairs on the vessel. The Coast Guard responded to the discharge in the harbor and oversaw the cleanup efforts.

The complaint further alleges a host of violations of pollution control regulations, including a failure to properly maintain and operate the vessel’s onboard oily water treatment system and making a non-approved bypass modification to the system. JM Fisheries LLC subsequently reimbursed the Coast Guard for the cleanup work.

To resolve the claims in the complaint, the consent decree requires the companies and company manager James Sousa to perform corrective measures on all vessels they own or operate. These measures include:

  • hiring an independent maritime consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of each vessel’s oil handling practices and operations,
  • providing crewmembers with training on proper operation and maintenance of the oily water separator system and on the required recordkeeping associated with the system,
  • documenting transfers of oil within and to each vessel, and
  • submitting compliance reports to the Coast Guard and Department of Justice.

Additionally, the consent decree requires them to pay a joint civil penalty of $720,000. The stipulated settlement agreement requires the Capt. Vincent Gann’s chief engineer, Edward DaCosta, to pay a civil penalty of $5,000 to resolve the claims alleged against him in the complaint. This penalty amount is based on a demonstrated limited ability to pay a higher penalty.

Section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health. Under the Act, the Coast Guard also has promulgated spill prevention and pollution control regulations for vessels and other facilities.

Overboard discharges of oily mixtures, whether by directly pumping out oily bilge water that has not been properly treated, or by attempting to pump only the portion of the oily bilge water beneath a floating oil layer in the bilge (so-called “decanting”), has long been unlawful under federal law. Eliminating oil discharges into the ocean helps protect people, birds, fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and other natural resources.

The penalty paid for this discharge and other violations will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Funds Center.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval.

Download the complaint

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