Vessel owners deny part in 2009 Charleston Harbor oil spill

Owners of a cargo ship the federal government is suing for expenses and damages stemming from a massive cleanup following an oil spill in 2009 are denying responsibility, according to recent court records.

Federal attorneys filed a civil suit last year in U.S. District Court in Charleston, seeking reimbursement from Black Med Lines, LTD, Fairsky Shipping and Trading, S.A., and their insurance companies for cleanup and other charges from the October 2009 oil spill by the John F., a 600-foot cargo vessel.

The filing claims the Greece-based owner and operators of the vessel failed to take necessary precautions to prevent the oil spill, which leaked black globs of oil on 60 miles of area shoreline.

An attorney for Black Med, Fairsky Shipping and Trading and the shipowners insurance company filed a response to the allegation on Feb. 8, saying it was not the source of the oil spill.

“Even if the pollution recovered is ‘oil’ within the meaning ... and even if the M/V JOHN F is the source of some of the oil found in the vicinity of Charleston Harbor, the vast majority of oil removed by the United States and Moran Environmental in October 2009 was, based on information and belief, the result of discharges of oil from at least two other known sources,” according to the filing.

The federal suit asks that the companies be held liable under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, enacted in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-tanker spill, requiring payment for removal costs and damages caused by a spill, including damages to natural resources.

The suit states that John F. was taking on heavy bunker fuel from a barge while anchored in the harbor during the afternoon of Oct. 19. The operation halted after crew members discovered fuel discharging from a vent for one of the fuel tanks, but not before some spilled over the vessel’s side and into the harbor, according to the document.

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