Jury finds Unix Line first engineer guilty in “magic pipe” case

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Following a two week trial in Oakland, Calif., Gilbert Fajardo Dela Cruz, the first engineer of the 26,060 dwt Unix Line tanker Zao Galaxy, has been found guilty of aiding and abetting an environmental crime and obstruction of justice in connection with the intentional dumping in oily bilge water from the ship in February 2019.

Last month, Singapore-based Unix Line Pte Ltd., the primary ship management arm of MOL Chemical Tankers, was sentenced to pay a fine of $1.65 million after entering a guilty plea to charges relating to its role in the case. The company was also placed on probation for a period of four years, and ordered to implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan as a special condition of probation.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, in January of 2019, Dela Cruz, 38, a Philippine national, was the First Engineer of the Zao Galaxy when it traveled from the Philippines to Richmond, Calif.

MAGIC PIPE

On February 11, 2019, United States Coast Guard examiners boarded the Zao Galaxy while it was moored in Richmond to conduct an examination. During the examination, a crewmember passed a note to an examiner requesting a meeting after the inspection so that the crewmember could “tell something” about a “magic pipe” and “damage [to the] marine environment.”

After the inspection and a follow-up investigation, Unix ultimately admitted that a ship officer directed crew members to discharge oily bilge water overboard, using a configuration of drums, flexible pipes, and flanges to bypass the vessel’s oil water separator. On February 26, 2020, the company admitted the discharges were done knowingly and that they were not recorded in the Zao Galaxy’s oil record book when it was presented to the U.S. Coast Guard during the vessel’s inspection.

Notwithstanding the company’s admissions, Cruz denied responsibility for the environmental crimes and went to trial. In finding Dela Cruz guilty, the jury concluded that he aided and abetted a violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships by causing the captain of the Zao Galaxy to maintain an inaccurate oil record book and that he also committed obstruction of justice.

According to the evidence presented at trial, in preparation for a Coast Guard inspection in Richmond, Cruz ordered a lower level employee who worked as his assistant to dump oily waste from the ship’s engineroom directly into the ocean using a “magic pipe.”

Dela Cruz then worked to conceal the dumping by not recording the movement or discharge of oily waste in the ship’s oil record book, which he was responsible for. Cruz ordered that certain pieces of equipment be repainted and the “magic pipe” be hidden to avoid Coast Guard detection. During the Coast Guard’s inspection, Cruz told his assistant who had dumped the oily waste overboard not to throw him “under the bus” and that they needed to get their stories straight for the Coast Guard.

A federal grand jury indicted Cruz on October 24, 2019, charging him with one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding.

The jury found Cruz guilty on all three counts.

Cruz faces a maximum of six years’ imprisonment and $250,000 for and three years of supervised release for the pollution count, 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 for the obstruction of justice count, and five years of imprisonment and $250,000 for the obstruction of the agency proceedings count.

The court may also order an additional term of supervised release, restitution, and fines.

Cruz has been released on bond pending sentencing, scheduled for June 11, 2021.

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