Fines for two Greece-based shipping companies

Greece-based shipping companies Empire Bulkers Ltd and Joanna Maritime Ltd have been ordered to pay $1m each in the US because of violations of pollution rules.

The two companies were convicted for what were described as “knowing and wilful violations” of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and the Ports and Waterways Safety Act – related to their role as the operator and owner of bulk carrier Joanna (IMO 9460277).

The prosecution stemmed from a March 2022 inspection in New Orleans that revealed that required pollution prevention equipment had been tampered with and the ship’s log had been falsified to conceal illegal discharges.

The companies also admitted to an unreported safety hazard, the US Justice Department said.

“Make no mistake, wilful tampering with required pollution control equipment and falsifying official ship logs to conceal illegal discharges are serious criminal offenses,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“In concealing major safety problems from the Coast Guard, the defendants here not only violated the law, but also recklessly risked the lives of the crew and the environment.”

The two related companies were also sentenced to serve four years of probation subject to the terms of a government-approved environmental compliance plan.

The case stemmed from a March 2021 inspection of the vessel in New Orleans when US Coast Guard discovered the violations during a routine port inspection. The Joanna, a 33,717 dwt bulker, arrived in the US on March 3rd 2021, and travelled approximately 100 miles up the Mississippi River to the Boone Carre anchorage where the Port State Inspection took place.

The inspectors charged that required pollution prevention equipment, the vessel’s oily water separator, had been tampered with to allow fresh water to trick the sensor designed to detect the oil content of bilge waste being discharged overboard.

They also charged that the ship’s oil record book, a required log presented to the US Coast Guard, had been falsified to conceal the improper discharges. During the same inspection, the Coast Guard inspectors by following a trail of oil drops also discovered an unreported safety hazard. They found an active fuel oil leak in the engine room at the pressure relief valves on the fuel oil heaters, a critical safety device necessary to prevent explosion, that they charged had been disabled.

In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted that the plugging of the relief valves in the fuel oil purifier room and the large volume of oil leaking from the pressure relief valve presented hazardous conditions that had not been immediately reported to the Coast Guard in violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act. There could be some confusion as to the vessel concerned, as the 2010-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 23,494 gt Joanna was renamed the Bolivar in June 2022 and has gone through two new owners – Bolivar Maritime LLC in June 2022 and NML Bolivar LLC in December 2022 – a new manager (now Madmar Shipmanagement Ltd) and a new P&I Club (now Swedish Club, was Britannia). It should not be confused with the current Joanna (IMO 9204477), a 1999-built Liberia-flagged container ship (16,802 gt), listed as entered with UK Club and, to add to the potential confusion, owned by Joanna Maritime Ltd-Lib, care of Eurobulk of Athens, Greece