Chief engineer sentenced in vessel pollution case
The former chief engineer of Tanabata, a U.S.-flagged car-carrier ship operated by Pacific Gulf Marine, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to six months in prison for conspiracy to make illegal discharges of oily waste and lying to the Coast Guard, said the U.S. Justice Department.
It was proven at trial that the Tanabata had a removable bypass pipe that was used to discharge oily waste without the use of an oily-water separator, a required pollution control device on oceangoing vessels, the Justice Department said.
Subordinates of the engineer, Mark Humphries, including other engineers, testified that he did not use the oily water separator. Humphries referred to the bypass pipe as the “illegal pipe” and directed that it be hidden when the ship was in port so that it would not be discovered by the Coast Guard.
According to papers filed in court by the prosecutors, Humphries deliberately bypassed the pollution prevention equipment on the Tanabata, then concealed the crime by making false entries in the ship’s official Oil Record Book, a required log regularly inspected by the Coast Guard. This practice involved a number of subordinate crewmembers of the engine department, including students at U.S. maritime academies receiving on-the-job training. Prosecutors also advised the court that Humphries had participated in and directed similar criminal conduct on two other ships.
Humphries was convicted by a jury on Oct. 16, 2007, for conspiring to violate four different laws including:
' Making illegal discharges of bilge waste, in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
' Failing to fully maintain an oil record book, also in violation of the act.
' Making and using materially false documents.
' Obstruction of agency proceedings.
The jury also found the defendant guilty on two counts of making materially false statements to the Coast Guard in 2002 and 2003.
Humphries was chief engineer of the Tanabata from April 2002 to September 2003, during which period he traded shifts with the ship’s other chief engineer, co-defendant Stephen Karas. Karas pleaded guilty to similar charges on March 29, 2007, and is awaiting sentencing. In addition to six months imprisonment, Humphries was sentenced to $1,000 fine and two years supervised released.
Pacific Gulf Marine Inc. (PGM). PGM pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Jan. 27, 2007, to charges of making illegal discharges of oil-contaminated waste from each of four ships managed by the company. After learning of the investigation, PGM conducted and voluntarily disclosed the results of an internal investigation and cooperated with investigators and prosecutors. PGM was sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine and $500,000 in community service payments, and to serve three years probation under terms of an Environmental Compliance Program that includes audits by an outside firm and review by a court appointed monitor. In addition to Humphries and Karas, two other chief engineers have also pleaded guilty to similar crimes.