A Portuguese shipping company admitted this week that it illegally dumped oily bilge water into the ocean and falsified records to cover up the crime.
Portline Bulk International pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston on Thursday to obstruction and violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The company has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and must create an environmental compliance plan that will be monitored by third parties. The shipping line will be sentenced at a later date.
The guilty plea comes days after two of the company's engineers were sentenced to three years of probation for falsifying the oil record book on the Achilleus bulk carrier to conceal a series of overboard discharges of oily wastewater while they were stationed on the vessel.
Chief engineer Anatoli Zotsenko and Valerii Pastushenko, the ship's second engineer, will also pay fines totaling $12,500. Both men are banned from entering a U.S. port during their probation period.
The falsified information was discovered by U.S. Coast Guard inspectors while the Achilleus was docked at the Port of Charleston in August.
"The world's oceans are not a dumping ground for criminals who seek to evade our nation's environmental laws," Jeffrey Bossert Clark, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.
It’s illegal to dump bilge water into the ocean without first running it through an oil-water separator. All discharges, even those in which the oil-water separator isn’t used, are supposed to be recorded in an oil record book, according to international regulations.
Court records show Achilleus crew members regularly bypassed the separator by running bilge water through a hose — sometimes referred to as a "magic pipe" — that leads to an overboard discharge valve. The oily discharges were not documented.
"The practice was to hook up the bypass hose a day or two after the ship left port and leave it connected, under the deck plates, during the oceanic voyage," court documents state. "Before entering a new port, the hose was disconnected and hidden in a storage room."
The illegal discharges took place over at least a 16-month period that started in April 2017, court records show.
"The South Carolina coast is one of the most beautiful parts of our nation," Sherri Lydon, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, said in a statement. Lydon said her office "takes environmental crimes seriously, and corporations and individuals who endanger our valuable marine resources and wildlife by violating federal law will be held accountable."
This is at least the second case in which a foreign-operated vessel has been charged with dumping oily bilge water in the ocean near Charleston.
Aegean Shipping Management of Greece paid a $2 million fine in 2017 after admitting crew members on its Green Sky tanker vessel used a similar hose to bypass that ship’s oil-water separator. Those crew members also falsified the ship’s oil record book to cover up the pollution.