GREENVILLE — A federal grand jury in Greenville has returned a nine-count indictment charging two engineering officers on a ship that called earlier this year at the N.C. Port of Wilmington with crimes relating to the illegal discharge of oily waste directly into the ocean.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment Friday.
The two engineering officers worked for Oceanfleet Shipping Ltd., a Greek shipping company that operates the cargo carrier M/V Ocean Hope. The discharge was discovered in July during a Coast Guard inspection at Wilmington.
Indicted are the vessel’s chief engineer, Rustico Yabut Ignacio, 65, and the second engineer, Cassius Flores Samson, 51, both of the Philippines.
According to the indictment, in 2015, Samson bypassed onboard pollution-prevention equipment with an unauthorized hose connection, or “magic pipe,” to discharge oil sludge generated by the M/V Ocean Hope directly into the sea. Samson also ordered crewmembers on numerous other occasions to pump oily mixtures from the vessel’s bilges into the sea using the ship’s general service pump rather than processing these mixtures through the vessel’s pollution-prevention equipment.
The operation of marine vessels like the M/V Ocean Hope generates large quantities of waste oil and oil-contaminated wastewater. International and U.S. law requires that these vessels use pollution-prevention equipment to preclude the discharge of these materials. All overboard discharges must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.
To hide the illegal discharges, Ignacio and Samson allegedly maintained a fictitious oil record book that failed to record the disposal, transfer or overboard discharge of oil from the vessel. The oil record book also contained false entries stating that pollution-prevention equipment had been used when it had not.
The indictment further alleges Ignacio and Samson ordered subordinate crewmembers to lie to the Coast Guard during the inspection in Wilmington. The crewmembers were allegedly instructed to deny knowledge of the connection of a magic pipe to discharge sludge and to tell the Coast Guard that oily water separator was being used as required under international law to process oily mixtures before discharge.
Both engineering officers were charged with violating the federal Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, conspiracy for their agreement to violate federal law, obstruction of justice for presenting false documents intended to deceive the Coast Guard and witness tampering for ordering subordinate crewmembers to mislead and lie to the Coast Guard.
Samson was also charged with false statements and obstruction of justice for lying to Coast Guard inspectors about the discharges.
If convicted, they could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice charges, in addition to other possible penalties.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina and trial attorneys Shane Waller and Brendan Selby for the Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.