WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge in Washington will not throw out criminal charges against a large fishing company in New Zealand accused of routinely dumping “oil-contaminated sludge and bilge waste into the ocean.”
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell refused to dismiss five of seven counts of Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships violations, conspiracy and obstruction of justice against Sanford Ltd. and its former chief engineer James Pogue.
In January 2012, a grand jury charged Sanford, Pogue and former chief engineer Rolando Ong Vano with violating federal criminal laws when they allegedly dumped oil-contaminated sludge and bilge waste into the sea and falsified and concealed records related to the discharges.
U.S. Coastguard officials learned of the alleged violations during a probe into the San Nikunau fishing vessel and its expeditions in July, 2011. The inspectors claimed the crew regularly discharged oil pollution from the ship’s engine room without using an oil water separator and made false entries in its oil record book to evade prosecution.
Before Judge Howell, Sanford argued that it was not clearly informed of disposal and oil record book regulations when charges were brought against the fishing company. It also claimed that they were under no duty to record discharges of bilge waste accumulated in the “machinery spaces” of its tuna vessel.
“Although the defendants expend much ink attempting to parse and draw confusion about the parts of a ship covered by the term ‘machinery spaces,’ its ordinary, common sense meaning is unambiguous. Indeed, the Court agrees with the government that the defendants’ contention that they do not understand how ‘machinery spaces’ is used in the regulation and the Superseding Indictment is ‘curious’ considering that ‘they are professional mariners and a maritime oriented organization,'” Judge Howell wrote.
Sanford claimed the government’s allegations underpin both the obstruction and APPS violation charges, making them multiplicitous.
“The Court disagrees. While the conduct underlying the falsification and obstruction counts may be similar, the statutes were designed to prevent different evils, both of which are alleged to have occurred,” Howell wrote.
The obstruction charges criminalizes Sanford’s alleged attempt to block the Coast Guard’s investigation, which is distinct from its alleged failure to record entries into the oil record book, Howell concluded.
Sanford faces fines up to $500,000 per count and criminal forfeiture of $24 million in profits related to its alleged criminal behavior.