Greek tanker crewman denied permission to leave S.C. over extradition worries

The Green Sky chemical tanker is owned by Aegeansun Gamma Inc.

A Greek national who has been detained in South Carolina for more than six months will not be allowed to travel to his home country while he awaits trial on charges that he violated pollution laws as the chief engineer on a chemical tanker.

Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant on Tuesday denied a motion to amend bond conditions for Panagiotis Koutoukakis, who faces three felony charges and up to 25 years in prison for his alleged role in a conspiracy to falsify records and cover up illegal pollution discharges while the tanker Green Sky was at sea. The falsified records were discovered last year while the tanker was docked at the Port of Charleston, according to court documents.

Koutoukakis is free on an unsecured $25,000 bond but is not allowed to leave South Carolina. He and four other defendants were arraigned on the charges Tuesday in federal court in Charleston. All of the defendants pleaded not guilty and no trial date has been set.

Koutoukakis was taken into custody on Jan. 14 as a material witness in the case and the federal government had been paying his expenses until he was formally charged last month. Koutoukakis, in court documents, said the government essentially forced him into homelessness and put his family at financial risk by not allowing him to return to Greece.

The Charleston Port & Seafarers Society, a charitable organization, recently has been helping Koutoukakis with his expenses and medical needs.

Prosecutors opposed letting Koutoukakis return home because Greece has weak extradition laws that would make it difficult to bring him back to South Carolina if he refused to show up for a trial. Koutoukakis promised to attend future court hearings, but Marchant agreed with prosecutors.

Koutoukakis was the chief engineer on the Green Sky at the time the alleged pollution violations occurred. An affidavit filed in federal court alleges Koutoukakis ordered crew members to bypass the ship’s oil and water separator and dump oily waste overboard six times from May 2015 through July 2015. Koutoukakis then failed to record the discharges as required by law in the ship’s oil record book.

Others charged in the case include: Nikolaos Bounovas, the ship’s second assistant engineer; Herbert Julian, chief engineer after Koutoukakis left the vessel; Aegean Shipping Management, the operator of the Green Sky; and ship owner Aegeansun Gamma Inc.

Bounovas and Julian were released on unsecured bonds of $25,000 apiece and ordered to surrender their passports.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_