The former captain of a chemical tanker at the center of a federal pollution case in Charleston will be allowed to return to his home in the Philippines after a judge on Monday sentenced him to time served for obstructing a criminal investigation into the matter.
Genaro Anciano, 52, faced up to five years in prison for initially lying to U.S. Coast Guard investigators about thousands of gallons of oily bilge waste that was dumped from the Green Sky tanker into the Atlantic Ocean. Investigators questioned Anciano and the tanker's crew members after the Green Sky docked in North Charleston in August 2015.
Anciano, who pleaded guilty to one felony charge of obstruction, eventually helped prosecutors build a case against Green Sky crew members who were found guilty in a jury trial last month.
"He was an important person to our case," prosecutor Christopher Hale told Judge Margaret Seymour prior to Anciano's sentencing. Hale and Ryan Gilsenan, the lawyer representing Anciano, had requested a light sentence for the Green Sky captain.
"The sentence to time-served was a just result after so much separation from his family and in view of his invaluable assistance he provided to the prosecution," Gilsenan said.
Meanwhile, a $2 million fine against Green Sky operator Aegean Shipping Management was imposed by Seymour in a separate hearing Monday in federal court in Charleston. Aegean, which is based in Greece, will pay $1.7 million in criminal penalties for the company's role in trying to cover up the pollution. Another $300,000 will go to Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, a protected natural reef area off the Georgia coast, between Savannah and Brunswick.
Prosecutors have asked a judge to approve splitting $500,000 from Aegean's fine among three Green Sky crew members who were whistleblowers in the case. That request is pending.
George Chalos, the lawyer representing Aegean, told Seymour the company is committed to protecting the environment and said it is a "huge enigma" why Green Sky crew members would dump waste into the sea. Even so, Aegean pleaded guilty to felony charges of aiding and abetting the pollution discharges and obstructing a criminal investigation.
Anciano, speaking through an interpreter, said Aegean officials told him not to help investigators when the pollution was first discovered.
"I was told to keep quiet," Anciano said during Monday's hearing. "I feared for my job."
Anciano said he later realized thwarting the investigation "was my biggest mistake" and decided to cooperate with Coast Guard officials.
"He was under duress and fearing for his job" when he made his initial statements to investigators, Gilsenan said. "He has expressed profound remorse ever since."
Anciano's wife also testified to the hardship the couple's family has endured while the pollution case has dragged on and Anciano has had to remain in the Charleston area for the past 18 months.
"This has taken a terrible toll on the Anciano family," said Gilsenan, who has represented the ship captain for free. Gilsenan said his client is not sure whether he will be able to find another job in the maritime industry, he source of his livelihood for three decades.
"His financial future is in peril," Gilsenan said.
Court records show Green Sky crew members told the Coast Guard that bilge waste was being discharged illegally into the ocean through a "magic pipe" — a yellow hose that hooked into various pipes to allow a bypass of the ship’s oil and water separator.
Both the Anciano and Aegean guilty pleas had been kept under seal until the jury trial concluded. In that trial, also held in Charleston, chief engineer Panagiotis Koutoukakis was found guilty of falsifying the ship's oil record book to cover up the illegal pollution discharges. Herbert Julian, who succeeded Koutoukakis as the ship's chief engineer, was found guilty of an obstruction charge. Both men will be sentenced at a later date.
Lawyers for Koutoukakis and Julian have asked a judge to disregard the jury's verdicts and find both men not guilty. Those requests are pending.
The 600-foot Green Sky is part of Aegean's "green fleet" of ships which are marketed as having new technology that reduces pollutants. The ship is registered in Liberia and owned by an entity incorporated in the Marshall Islands.