The chief engineer of an as-yet unnamed large commercial bulk carrier pled guilty last week in a US federal court to two felony counts of deliberately discharging oily water near New Orleans, and of subsequently lying to the US Coast Guard during an investigation into the oil spill. Another crewmember aboard the vessel reported the incident via social media to the USCG and was later subjected to retaliatory actions by the chief engineer.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said that “the intentional pollution of US waters and the deliberate effort to cover up the crime are extremely serious criminal offences that will not be tolerated. Prosecutions such as this one should send a clear message to those that would violate the law and endanger our precious natural resources.”
The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana said that the incident took place on March 13th and/or 14th, 2021 when an unnamed Marshall Islands-registered bulk carrier was anchored near the South West Passage off the Louisiana coast. The Office declined to name the vessel, stating that the investigation was continuing. However, it reported that the chief engineer, a Russian citizen named Kirill Kompaniets pled guilty on May 18th.
Court papers recorded that a valve burst and the engine room flooded during repair operations to correct a problem with the discharge of clean ballast water. The papers said that, after the leak had been controlled, Kompaniets and another engineer deliberately dumped the oil-contaminated water in the bilges overboard. This resulted in the release of approximately 10,000 gallons of oil-contaminated bilge off the coast of New Orleans. The ship’s required pollution prevention equipment – an oily-water separator and oil content monitor – were not used, and the discharge was not recorded in the required Oil Record Book.
The chief engineer was also charged with obstruction of justice, based on his alleged various efforts to conceal the illegal discharge. The USCG noted that the illegal activity was first reported by another engineer.
Kompaniets admitted to making false statements to the USCG, as well as destroying evidence. He reportedly removed printouts from the computer alarm sought by the Coast Guard from the time of the illegal discharge and made false statements in the Oil Record Book that failed to disclose the illegal discharge.
After the incident the chief engineer further held meetings with subordinate crewmembers and directed them to make false statements to the USCG. He ordered others in the engine room to delete all evidence from their cell phones.
After he learned of the whistleblower contacting USCG, the chief engineer also admitted that he prepared a retaliatory document accusing the whistleblower of poor performance, which would have been part of an effort to discredit his claims.
Kompaniets is scheduled to be sentenced on September 1st.