Monday, 27 September 2010

Judge gives “Iorana” whistleblowers $125,000 each.

Owners Irika shipping to pay $ 4 million.

Four crew members that blew the whistle on a ‘magic pipe’ bypassing the oily water separator aboard the Greek owned ship Iorana have been awarded $125,000 each by a judge in Maryland, USA. The owners, Irika shipping, had already agreed to a $4 million fine after they pleaded guilty in July.

When the Iorana arrived in Baltimore in January this year, a Filipino crewmember passed on a note to a customs inspector, saying that a bypass ‘magic pipe’ had been used on instructions of Chief Engineer Marmaras to pump out about 23 m3 of oily water directly overboard. The note said: “We are asking help to any authorities concerned about this, because we must protect our environment and our marine lives.” The four whistleblowers had taken photographs with a cell phone as evidence.

Some oily rags were also thrown overboard at night at sea. An investigation discovered the magic hose arrangement; Marmaras pleaded guilty in June and the owners followed suit a month later. Interestingly, Irika Shipping was prosecuted for a similar offence three years ago in connection with another vessel, the Irika, and fined $500,000; the Irika’s then Chief Engineer was reemployed as Marmara’s predecessor on the Iorana and continued the illegal practice, a fact that must have contributed to the court’s displeasure and the much heavier fine this time.

A US Department of Justice press release says that the Panamanian registered Irika Shipping has entered into a multi-district plea arrangement with the Districts of Maryland, Western Washington and Eastern Louisiana (States where the Iorana used to call) and will pay a $4 million total penalty, be placed on probation for a maximum period of five years and be subject to the terms of an Enhanced Environmental Compliance Program.

The owners admitted that 23 cubic meters of oil contaminated sludge and bilge waste were dumped overboard in December 2009 during the voyage from Gibraltar to Baltimore using the 103-foot bypass hose. Additional illegal discharges were also made in previous months. Logbooks were doctored. The company also admitted to hiring back the convicted Chief Engineer from the Irika who committed similar offences on the Iorana before Marmara. In addition, authorities had charged senior officers of the Iorana of lying to authorities in the US and pressurising crew to do so.

The $4 million penalty includes a $3 million criminal fine and $1 million in organisational community service payments that will fund various marine environmental projects. The whistleblowers were awarded a total of half a million dollars out of the fine: US law entitles them to up to half the fine.

“This was a case of wilful and deceitful pollution, and the corporation responsible is being held accountable,” said Rear Adm. Lee, Commander of the Coast Guard’s 5th District. “This case should serve as a deterrent to those who would violate marine pollution laws.”

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