Japanese fishing company Fukuichi Gyogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Fukuichi) was convicted and sentenced on July 11th in the District of Guam for two violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, the US Department of Justice has reported.
The charges stemmed from discharges of waste oil and oily bilge water from the F/V Fukuichi Maru No. 112 into international waters and an attempt to cover up those discharges when the vessel was inspected by the US Coast Guard in Apra Harbour, Guam.
The charges also included failing to document properly the discharge of fishing gear and plastics from the vessel, and obstructing a US Coast Guard Port State Control inspection.
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said that “Fukuichi broke the law when the company intentionally discharged oily bilge waste into the ocean. To make matters worse, Fukuichi tried to cover up their unlawful acts by obstructing the routine Coast Guard inspection”.
He added that “the Department will continue to work with its partners to ensure that companies, both foreign and domestic, comply with the rule of law.”
Fukuichi pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, and two counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The company was fined $1.5m and sentenced to a five-year term of probation, during which vessels owned and/or operated by the company will be banned from entering the Exclusive Economic Zone, Territorial Sea, or a port or terminal belonging to the US without prior approval.
Fukuichi will also be required to implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) that includes vessel audits.
Fukuichi was the owner and operator of the vessel, which conducted fishing operations throughout the Pacific Ocean. The vessel entered Apra Harbor, Guam, on April 1st this year for repairs to its cargo refrigeration system. According to court documents, members of the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel and discovered fifteen pollution and safety deficiencies and detained the vessel. The inspectors discovered numerous leaks of water and oil into the bilges and the Chief Engineer confessed that the practice on the vessel was to discharge waste oil and oily bilge water directly into the ocean using an emergency bilge pump system and buckets. The inspectors discovered these systems coated with heavy oil. The inspectors examined the vessel’s Oil Record Book and discovered 233 incorrect or false entries.
Later during the inspection the inspector discovered that the Chief Engineer obstructed their proceeding by erasing 42 of the fraudulent or incorrect entries and replacing them with new information.
The inspectors also examined the vessel’s Garbage Record Book (GRB) and discovered that it contained a series of “ditto” marks instead of the signature of the officer in charge of managing the garbage. The inspectors determined based on crew interviews that animal carcasses and fishing gear, which included plastic, had been discharged from the vessel and not recorded in the GRB.