A U.S. District Court Judge in Delaware has sentenced the owner and operator of a foreign-flag tanker to pay a $3 million criminal fine for obstructing justice and concealing deliberate pollution from the vessel.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Andrews for the District of Delaware sentenced Liquimar Tankers Management Services Inc. and Evridiki Navigation Inc. after they were convicted at trial on all charges, including violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, falsifying ships’ documents, obstructing a U.S. Coast Guard inspection and making false statements to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors.
Evridiki was fined $2 million and Liquimar was fined $1 million. Each have also been sentenced to a five-year probation period.
In March 2019, the MT Evridiki was inspected by the Coast Guard in Big Stone Anchorage in Delaware Bay after a delivery of crude oil. The jury found that during the inspection, Liquimar, Evridiki and the ship’s Chief Engineer, Nikolaos Vastardis, tried to deceive Coast Guard inspectors regarding the use of the ship’s oily water separator (OWS) and oil content meter (OCM), a required pollution prevention device.
Chief Engineer Vastardis used a hidden valve to trap fresh water inside the sample line so that the OCM sensor registered zero parts per million concentration of oil instead of what was really being discharged overboard. The Coast Guard and government experts were able to prove that the OCM was being tricked with fresh water by analyzing historic data recovered from the machine’s memory chip.
When the Coast Guard opened the OWS, they found it was inoperable and fouled with copious amounts of oil and soot. Vastardis’ conviction was upheld in December 2021 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected a challenge to U.S. jurisdiction over foreign vessels.
“Ocean outlaws and polluters such as these will continue to be vigorously prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
At sentencing, prosecutors provided new evidence, based on a forensic examination of the ship’s computers, that Liquimar was also making and using fake and forged certificates regarding safety and environmental requirements. Fake certificates and fake seals, to imprint on the certificates, were e-mailed to the ship by senior shore side employees including the Designated Person Ashore – a required manager under international law who is charged with ensuring the vessel and its crew abide by the law.
According to the Justice Department, at least three senior employees of Liquimar were involved with creating and sending the fake certificates, which related to the calibration of the OCM and whether pressure relief valves for the cargo were actually tested properly.
A fake OCM certificate was used during the Coast Guard inspection and Vastardis was specifically asked about the validity of the certificate. The Coast Guard further discovered that the data stored on the OCM indicated the OCM was not energized on the date that the fake certificate claimed the OCM was calibrated. In addition, the certificate for the pressure relief valves was noted to be false because it had claimed that the system was tested on a date that the cargo tanks were full, which is impossible.
While the defendants asked the judge to ignore the forged documents, federal prosecutors referred to forgery as the “elephant in the room” and told the court that the companies “failure to address, let along mention this willful misconduct, demonstrates that these defendants are willfully blind if not completely unrepentant.”