PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Two Greek shipping companies are facing penalties after discharging oil multiple times into the water at the Port of Port Arthur in 2017.
Avin International Ltd and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises, were sentenced Friday, May 3 Eastern District of Texas before Judge Marcia A. Crone, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Avin International was the operator and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises was the owner of the oil tanker Nicos I.V., a Greek-flagged vessel. The Master of the Nicos I.V., Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos, and the vessel’s Chief Officer, Alexios Thomopoulos, also pleaded guilty to making false statements to members of the United States Coast Guard during the investigation on December 20, 2018, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and United States Attorney Joseph D. Brown for the Eastern District of Texas said.
Both companies pleaded guilty to obstruction of an agency proceeding, failing to report discharge of oil under the Clean Water Act and three counts of negligent discharge of oil under the Clean Water Act on Nov. 26, 2018.
The companies agreed to pay a $4 million criminal fine and serve four years of probation, meaning that the company's vessels will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan and undergo inspections by an independent auditor.
Tsoumakos and Mr. Thomopoulos were sentenced to pay fines of $10,000 each for making false statements.
According to documents filed in court, the Nicos I.V. was equipped with a segregated ballast system, a connected series of tanks that help balance the the vessel by taking on or discharging water. The ship's ballast system became contaminated with oil before July 6, 2017, discharging oil twice into the Port of Houston on July 6 and 7, investigators said. Both Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos were told about the discharges and failed to report them, which is required under the Clean Water Act.
Investigators said the ship's officials did not record the discharges in the ship's oil record book,which is required by MARPOL and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
The ship's next stop was the Port of Port Arthur, where more oil bubbled up near the ship. The oil spill was reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. The master and the chief officer of the ship lied to the Coast Guard during the investigation, claiming that they didn't know about the oil in the ballast system before the spill at Port Arthur, according to court documents.
Several of the government agencies involved in the investigations gave statements about the sentencing.
“Our nation, including the State of Texas, rely on America’s ports and coastal waters for trade, recreation, and environmental enjoyment," Assistant Attorney General Clark said. "Foreign companies acting in defiance of the laws and regulations that protect these valued resources threaten adjacent communities as well as marine ecosystems more broadly.
"The Division remains committed to pursuing justice for these offenders, and today’s action stands as proof of that commitment.”
“Our coastal waterways are critically important,” United States Attorney Joseph D. Brown said. “Companies that use them are expected to help maintain them by abiding by the Clean Water Act. When they do not, there will continue to be investigations and consequences for those violations.
"Furthermore, individuals are always expected to tell the truth when investigations are required, and failure to deal truthfully with investigators always makes a situation worse.”
“We are very grateful for the opportunity to work with the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the United States Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section, and the United States Attorney’s Office, who were all instrumental in achieving this significant outcome,” U.S. Coast Guard Sector MSU Port Arthur Captain Jacqueline Twomey said. “We believe that the results of this case will serve as a deterrent that will ultimately prevent or reduce the damage to the environment.
"By demonstrating the consequences of this vessel’s illicit actions, the intense collaboration and attention to detail of all team members ensured this vessel and others, with similar intentions that conduct trade in the United States, comply with domestic and international environmental laws intended to eliminate marine pollution around the globe.”
Numerous agencies were involved in the investigation, including the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector MSU Port Arthur, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit, and the Beaumont Police Department.