BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) – Two Greek shipping companies pleaded guilty to Clean Water Act violations and agreed to pay a $4 million fine for discharging oil from a tanker into the Port of Houston and Port Arthur, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Avin International Ltd. and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises also agreed to four years of probation in which their vessels must adhere to an environmental compliance plan, and allow inspections by independent auditors, U.S. Attorney Joseph Brown said in a statement.
The companies pleaded guilty Monday to obstruction of an agency proceeding, failure to report discharge of oil and three counts of negligent discharge of oil.
Prosecutors said oil was discharged from the ballast system of the companies’ oil tanker the Nicos I.V into the Port of Houston in early July 2017.
But the ship’s master and chief officer, Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos and Alexios Thomopoulos, did not report the discharges to the Coast Guard or record them in the ship’s logs, as required by federal law.
Ballast systems hold water to stabilize ships and the Nicos I.V.’s had become contaminated with oil.
“After leaving the Port of Houston, en route to Port Arthur, Texas, the deck crew was instructed to open the ballast tanks, and oil was observed in several of the tanks. After arriving in Port Arthur, additional oil began bubbling up next to the vessel” prosecutors said.
The Coast Guard received a report about the Port Arthur discharge and opened an investigation.
Port Arthur, population 55,000, is on the Texas-Louisiana border and is home to the nation’s largest oil refinery, owned by Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco.
Prosecutors said Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos lied to the Coast Guard that they did not know oil was in the tanker’s ballast system until it arrived in Port Arthur.
Both men pleaded guilty to making a material false statement for which they face up to five years in prison. Their sentencing hearings have not been scheduled.
“The international ports of Houston and Port Arthur are no one’s dumping ground. Vessel operators coming to the United States must not foul American waterways. Those who knowingly discharge their waste and lie to the Coast Guard to dodge their legal responsibilities under federal law are on notice” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.