Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Singapore) Pte Ltd. yesterday pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of bilge waste from the tank vessel Topaz Express, a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson of the District of Hawaii accepted the guilty plea. Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and vessel Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan had previously pleaded guilty to their involvement in the offense.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Schulte will pay a total fine of $1,750,000 and serve a 4-year term of probation. This is the largest fine ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offense. The company must also implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan, which applies to all 38 vessels operated by the company that call on U.S. ports.
According to court documents and information presented in court, the defendants illegally dumped bilge waste from the Topaz Express directly into the ocean, without properly processing it through pollution prevention equipment.
The defendants admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law. Specifically, on three separate occasions between May and July 2019, Schulte, acting through Chief Engineer Skenda Reddy and Second Engineer Padmanaban Samirajan, its employees, used a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass the ship’s pollution prevention equipment and discharge bilge waste directly into the ocean.
They then failed to record the improper overboard discharges in the vessel’s oil record book.
Additionally, during the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the Topaz Express, Reddy destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged overboard without being processed through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment.
“This case was built on the hard work of Coast Guard inspectors and investigators and we appreciate the strong partnership with the Department of Justice to hold polluters accountable,” said Capt. Arex Avanni, commander, Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. “All vessel owners and operators are responsible for maintaining their vessels and preventing illegal discharges of oily wastes into the ocean. We are committed to the people of Hawaii to protect our waters and the Pacific Ocean from the damage caused by pollution from illegal dumping.”