Louisiana court acquits Russian master of illegal discharge responsibility

A Louisiana court has acquitted Captain Vjaceslavs Birzakovs, Master of the chemical/oil products tanker Ridgebury Alexandra Z (IMO 9439785), on all charges related to illegal discharges from the vessel. On May 23rd the jury in the Western District of Louisiana cleared the Master of six criminal counts of federal pollution and obstruction of justice related to a Coast Guard investigation of the Ridgebury Alexandra Z for alleged MARPOL violations. He had been detained for more than 19 months in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The vessel’s operator, Interorient Marine Services Limited, had already been found guilty of failing to accurately maintain the Ridgebury Alexandra Z’s Oil Record Book. The company was fined $2m in February and also sentenced to four years’ probation.

The company had admitted that, contrary to MARPOL, oil cargo residues and oily bilge water were dumped from the tanker directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. The company also admitted that false entries were made in the vessel’s Oil Record Book to conceal the illegal dumping.

The six-count indictment of the Master was handed down by a Grand Jury on November 29th, 2018, alleging that Birzakovs directed the circumvention of the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment, falsified records, obstructed justice, made false statements, and conspired with other crewmembers to falsify the vessel’s Oil Record Book and to obstruct the USCG’s enforcement of the law.

Captain Birzakovs was represented by Jones Walker attorneys Michael W. Magner and T.C. Wicker, IV, who helped secure the victory following a four day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey in the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division.

As well as the Captain, 10 crewmembers and officers of the vessel had been detained in the South Louisiana area in connection with the case. The Captain maintained his innocence at all times. The jury took just two hours to clear him of all charges.

“I cooperated fully with the Coast Guard’s investigation and am very pleased but not at all surprised by the jury’s verdict,” Captain Birzakovs said.

2009-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 29,905 gt Ridgebury Alexandra Z is owned by Ridgebury Delta LLC care of manager Norient Product Pool ApS of Hellerup, Denmark. ISM manager is V Ships UK Ltd of Glasgow, UK. It is entered with North of England Club on behalf of Ridgebury Delta LLC