Monday, 30 August 2010

Greek Chief Engineer sues owners for US $23 million

Greek Chief Engineer Ioannis Mylonakis, acquitted of five felony charges in a US court in May this year, has now sued Greece’s Mamidakis group and others for a whopping $23m in the US. Mylonakis claims that Mamidakis, the owners of the tanker Georgios M, sacrificed him to authorities in the US as part of a plea-bargain deal. He claims further that the owners had a deliberate policy of dumping oily water at sea and that they lied to the US about their wealth in order to get away with a smaller fine, besides hiding corporate interconnections between different entities of their group.

Mylonakis has sued the vessel and the companies, and, individually, the President of Mamidakis Kyriakos Mamidakis, Director Emmanuel Mamidakis, General Manager Prokopakis and other board members Nikolaos and Alexandros Mamidakis.

Last year, a Mamidakis group company Styga Compania Naviera, the managers of the Georgios M, had admitted in the US that it used permanently installed magic pipelines, some hidden below the floor plates of the engine room, for dumping oily water at sea. Styga struck a plea bargain, paying just a $1.25m fine and agreeing to a three year probationary inspection programme. Interestingly, Styga also agreed to assist the US in prosecuting three ex Chief Engineers as part of the deal.

“The agreed fine is disproportionately small considering the magnitude of the actual wealth of the Mamidakis defendants and Helford,” Houston lawyer George Gaitas had said. Helford is the Mamidakis group company that owns just one vessel, the Georgios M.

Mylonakis had been Chief Engineer for about three months before he was arrested in February 2009 and accused of dumping oily water off Texas. His lawyers submitted, at his trial in May this year, that he was innocent and that, in any case, ordinary due diligence by Mylonakis had not uncovered the permanent magic pipes installed below the engine room floor plates. A jury in Houston agreed with Mylonakis, acquitting him after more than a year after he was first arrested for dumping oil off Houston and Corpus Christi.

Eight crewmembers had testified at the trial saying Mylonakis ordered the magic pipe bypass; the jury found, however, that the crew made these declarations in return for promises of immunity by the US authorities. Judge Kenneth Hoyt also struck down the testimony of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab’s expert chemist as “confusing and irrelevant”.

George Chalos, a defense council member had said at the time, “There was good reason that Chief Mylonakis defiantly testified in his own defense and loudly protested the charges. He was innocent. The real shame is that the vessel’s owner and operator were trying to make Mylonakis the scapegoat and blame him for acts he didn’t do, which was compounded by the government’s failure to appreciate the facts as they truly exist ... they tried to convict an innocent man.”

Now, suing the shipowners, Mylonakis says he suffered medical problems while detained in the US; his pension and health insurance expired since he was not working as a mariner and the managers refused him financial assistance for medical treatment. The owner’s say, however, that they have done enough, paying his salary, besides undergoing expenses for his maintenance and stay in the US.

Besides these relatively small claims, Mylonakis is suing for loss in personal income and some $14m in compensatory damages, besides another $7m in punitive damages. He is also demanding another $1.5m in civil penalties to the US government, presumably based on his charge that the owners misdeclared their wealth in the plea bargain arrangement. This is not an altruistic gesture, though. If successful, Mylonakis, as plaintiff, will be entitled to half the 1.5 million amount.

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