Shipping Company to Pay $1 Million Fine for Oily Discharge Nowhere Near Alabama

The cargo ship Gaurav Prem dumped oily waste in the Pacific Ocean last year.  Even though the oily waste didn’t come anywhere close to the state’s waterways, Alabama will benefit from a deal struck today with the vessel’s  operator.

The Singapore based firm, Target Ship Management, that operated the vessel, pleaded guilty to two criminal violations related to the dumping and will be paying a $1 million dollar fine.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will also benefit as the company will make a $200,000 community contribution to the foundation.  The money is earmarked specifically for water restoration projects in southwest Alabama.

Two other individuals, the ship’s chief engineer and 2nd engineer, also pleaded guilty to criminal violations and face possible prison time.

In reading a short statement to U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose, Rajesh Sachar, a marine manager for Target Ship Management, promised a “transformation of our corporate culture” in response to the incident.  Sachar entered the guilty plea on behalf of the company.

Sachar stated that he regrets  these criminal acts ever occurred, and  takes this opportunity to apologize to the court for these violations of U.S. law.  He added that this type of conduct is completely unacceptable, and Target will take steps to ensure this never happens again.

The U.S. Coast Guard, according to court records, inspected the Guarav Prem when it arrived in port September 21 after a crewmember tipped off local authorities of environmental violations.

According to crew members, the chief engineer and 2nd engineer ordered crewmembers to bypass the ship’s pollution control system and pump oily waste into the sea 2 days after the ship left South Korea.  A spool pipe was connected to the bilge system with the vessel’s ballast system by the workers.  When authorities inspected the ship, the spool pipe was in the machine shop storage room.

According to court records, crewmembers provided photographic evidence to the Coast Guard of the dumping.

Federal prosecutors have pursued these so-called magic pipe cases across the country.  Prosecutors in Mobile just won a guilty verdict against the ship’s captain for failure to maintain an accurate Garbage Record Book after investigators determined that a crewmember tossed plastic garbage overboard on the same voyage.

Michael Anderson, assistant U.S. attorney, told Judge DuBose the ship’s 4th engineer warned the 2nd engineer, Hanprap, that the Coast Guard would put him in jail if officers found the spool pipe.  Anderson said that according to the 4th engineer, the defendant Hanprap responded that he will not be going to jail, that the chief engineer will be going to jail.

Hanprap and the chief engineer, Vongvichuankul, pleaded guilty to failure to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book.  Under terms of the plea bargain, both the defendants and prosecutors have agreed  to a sentencing guideline calculation that would put the prison range at 6 to 12 months.  This would make both men eligible for probation.

Prosecutors want Vongvichuankul to receive a stiffer sentence as the leader or manager of the criminal violations.  His attorney said he plans to fight that.

DuBose scheduled a July hearing saying she would not accept the plea bargain right now.

The U.S. criminal violation came about when the crew presented inspectors with an official log, the Oil Record Book, that did not document the discharges.

Target Ship Management has had trouble in the past with violations.  According to court records, the firm’s plea agreement states that an engineer onboard the ship gave a letter  to the vessel’s captain in early July of last year for the company’s fleet manager.  The letter alleged improper discharges of bilge waste.

Judge DuBose sentenced the company to three years probation, in addition to the fine.  The company would pay the fine in full by the middle of next month, an attorney for the company said.


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