Owner and operator of tanker fined total of $3m for pollution offences

The owner and operator of MT Ocean Princess, along with the vessel’s senior officers, have been convicted of air pollution crimes in the US and fined $1.5m each. The charges were for using bunker fuel that exceeded the maximum allowable sulphur limit in the US Caribbean Emission Control Area. The tanker was owned by Lily Shipping and operated by Ionian Shipping & Trading. Both have been fined $1.5m for various pollution, recordkeeping, and obstruction of justice crimes related to the operation of the tanker.

The tanker’s Master, Stamatios Alekidis, along with Chief Officer, Rey Espulgar, and Chief Engineer, Athanasios Pittas have also been convicted for their roles in the crimes.

The US Justice Department said that, while engaged in transporting petroleum products throughout the Caribbean between January 3rd 2017, and July 10th 2018, the MT Ocean Princess entered into, and operated within, the US Caribbean ECA using fuel that contained a sulphur content that exceeded the 0.10% sulphur cap on twenty-six separate occasions.

The DoJ said that “the fuel was petroleum cargo that had been transferred to the fuel tanks as authorized by the vessel’s commercial manager. Once notification was received from Master Stamatios Alekidis, Chief Officer Rey Espulgar coordinated with Chief Engineer Athanasios Pittas to make the transfers from the cargo tanks to the bunker tanks. Rey Espulgar then falsified the Oil Record Book, Part II, by failing to record that cargo had been transferred to the bunker tanks. Athanasios Pittas also falsified the Oil Record Book, Part I, by falsely recording that the fuel in the bunker tank originated from a shore-side company in St. Martin, F.W.I. Additionally, Athanasios Pittas created fictitious Bunker Delivery Notes that claimed the fuel in the bunkers came from the same shore-side company in St. Martin, F.W.I. Between March 2nd 2016 and February 6th 2018 nineteen separate fictitious Bunker Delivery Notes were created on and kept aboard the vessel.”

U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the vessel on July 10th 2018 and discovered that the vessel was using fuel with an excessive sulphur content. During the inspection, Chief Officer Rey Espulgar instructed some of the lower-ranking crew members to lie to the inspectors about where the fuel came from.

In addition to the criminal fine, Ionian Shipping and Lily Shipping were each placed on four years’ probation and ordered to implement an environmental compliance plan.

The officers were sentenced to three years’ probation, during which they cannot return to the US on a ship. Espulgar was also fined $3,000.