Federal Judge Fines Ship Qwners $750,000 After
by Bryan Denson
A federal judge today convicted the owners and operators of the Cyprus flagship Arion SB of felony environmental crimes that came to light about two weeks after a mysterious oil spill in the Port of Portland.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon hit A.E. Nomikos Shipping Inv. Ltd., of Greece, and Lounia Shipping Co. Ltd., of Cyprus, with a joint penalty of $750,000 for failing to maintain proper records of oil residue disposals and doctoring records of its onboard waste-oil incinerator. Half the money will go to the Oregon Governor's Fund for the Environment.
Kenneth Lerner, a Portland lawyer representing the two companies, said an internal investigation found that the 622-foot Arion SB had not leaked pollutants in the port.
The U.S. Coast Guard and state regulators were summoned to a soda ash export terminal after a spill was reported on Oct. 18. Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife said 300 panfish later found dead in the water amounted to the biggest fish kill in the lower Willamette River basin since 2002.
The spillage was quickly contained and seagulls reportedly swept in to eat the dead fish. It's not yet clear whether the fish died because of spilled oil.
"Today's convictions are not specifically tied to the oil spill in the Port of Portland last month, but do address this vessel's oil pollution over the past several months," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie Beckerman.
Federal court records show that the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the Arion SB on Oct. 16 for a safety exam, and its crew presented its record of oil transfers and disposals for inspection.
Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency investigators questioned crewmembers and found that officials employed by Nomikos and Lounia had, since at least June, directed subordinates in the vessel's engine room to improperly run the ship's oil water separator.
"Specifically, the chief engineer instructed the second engineer to pipe fresh, clean water directly into the Oil Content Meter for the purpose of blinding the Arion SB's Oil Content meter," according to a felony charge filed in Portland.
The practice, known as "tricking" the meter, meant it would not function properly to prevent overboard discharges of oil-contaminated waste in excess of 15 parts per million.
The chief engineer failed to include any entries in the Arion SB's record of oil transfers and disposals, and he fudged records that showed how much oil in the ship's bilge and sludge collection tanks was incinerated, according to the government's charges.
As part of today's sentencing, Judge Simon put Nomikos Shipping and Lounia Shipping on three years of probation and ordered the companies not to take adverse action -- including dismissals or negative performance reviews -- of crew members who cooperated with the government
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