Ship owners deny liability in 2009 Charleston oil spill
The owners of a cargo ship that allegedly caused a large oil spill along the Lowcountry’s shoreline more than three years ago say in court records that other sources caused the pollution. The federal government filed a lawsuit late last year in U.S. District Court in Charleston seeking reimbursement from Black Med Lines Ltd., Fairsky Shipping and Trading SA and their insurers for clean-up costs and other charges stemming from the October 2009 spill. The filing claims the Greece-based owner and operators of the 600-foot-long John F. failed to take necessary precautions to prevent the incident, which left black globs on 60 miles of shoreline.
The government is asking a judge for damages and an award for destruction to natural resources, in addition to $354,092 in reimbursements from John F. owners and operators. The nearly two-week cleanup was handled by the Coast Guard and Moran Environmental Services.
An attorney for Black Med, Fairsky Shipping and the insurer filed a formal response to the allegations on Feb. 8, denying its role.
“Even if the pollution recovered is ‘oil’ within the meaning ... and even if the ... 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 response. The other sources were not identified in the document.
Ryan Gilsenan, an attorney representing the companies, declined to comment on the case Friday.
The lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was enacted in response to the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill. It also demands payment for removal costs and damages. The government alleges that John F. was taking on a type of fuel known as heavy bunker fuel from a barge while anchored in Charleston Harbor on Oct. 19, 2009. The operation was halted after crew members from the barge discovered fuel discharging from a vent for one of the tanks, but that was after some spilled into the harbor, according to court documents.Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.