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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Won’t Spare Oil-Dumping Tanker

WASHINGTON D.C. (CN) - A Norwegian-flagged tanker that dumped oily waste in the Atlantic Ocean failed to topple environmental penalties, a federal judge ruled.

As the M/T Wilmina arrived in Corpus Christi, Texas, on May 4, 2010, one of the tanker's fired employees alerted the U.S. Coast Guard to several environmental-related offenses, including that the tanker had discharged oily waste at least four times while in transit.

The whistle-blower provided inspectors a flash drive with photos and video demonstrating the violations.

That evidence led the Coast Guard to conduct an expanded inspection of the tanker, uncovering that oil had been pumped overboard and that the Oil Record Book had been falsified.

A device meant to remove oil from the ship was inoperable, among other onboard deficiencies.

Among other penalties, the U.S. Coast Guard imposed a three-year restriction on the tanker in U.S. waters and ordered the vessel to implement an Environmental Compliance Plan.

The vessel's owners filed suit in Washington, D.C., alleging violations of their due-process rights, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled the three-year ban invalid on Tuesday.

In upholding the enforcement of the compliance plan, however, Jackson found the requirement "fell well within the scope of the Coast Guard's authority under the statute."

"Given this purpose, the court holds that the requirement that the vessel develop a successful compliance plan, even without the specter of the alternative sanction of a three-year ban, 'sensibly serves the goals for which it was designed,'" Jackson wrote.

"The three-year ban, on the other hand, does not serve the purpose of protecting the environment or correcting the Wilmina's deficiencies, since it would have permitted the ship to return to U.S. waters after three years without addressing the underlying environmental violations," the judge added.

Since a Coast Guard summary of its findings reveals that two crewmembers admitted to participating or witnessing the discharge, Wilmina Shipping AS and Wilhelmsen Marine Services AS failed to attack the evidence supporting the Coast Guard's order, Jackson said.

"Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the court holds that the Coast Guard's order is severable, that the agency did not violate its policies and procedures in issuing the order, and that the evidence in the administrative record supports the order," the 34-page ruling states.

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