(CN) - A federal jury in Mobile, Ala., convicted a Norwegian shipping line and three of its employees of obstructing justice, witness tampering and conspiracy after they dumped waste oil and oil-contaminated waste water into the Gulf of Mexico.
Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab AS, more commonly known as DSD Shipping, operates crude oil tankers, and as result of these activities is subject to strict rules under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
The law requires that vessels use pollution prevention equipment, known as an oily-water separator, to preclude the discharge of waste materials. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.
According to prosecutors, in January 2010, DSD Shipping knew that the oily-water separator aboard its vessel, the M/T Stavanger Blossom, was inoperable.
In an internal corporate memo presented during a two-week trial, DSD Shipping noted that the device could not properly filter oil-contaminated waste water and stated that individuals "could get caught for polluting" if the problem was not addressed.
Rather than repair or replace the oily-water separator, however, DSD Shipping used various methods to bypass the device and force the discharge of oily-wastes into the ocean, prosecutors said.
As a result, during the last months of the vessel's operation prior to its arrival in the Port of Mobile, the M/T Stavanger Blossom discharged approximately 20,000 gallons of oil-contaminated waste water, the government said.
The evidence at trial also established that several DSD Shipping employees intentionally discharged fuel oil sludge directly into the ocean.
Specifically, crewmembers cleaned the vessel's fuel oil sludge tank, removed approximately 264 gallons of sludge and placed the waste oil into plastic garbage bags. After hiding the sludge bags aboard the ship from port authorities in Mexico, defendants senior engineers Xiaobing Chen and Xin Zhong ordered crewmembers to move as many as 100 sludge bags to the deck of the vessel. There, Zhong threw the sludge bags overboard directly into the ocean.
The shipping line, Chen, Zhong and two other employees, Bo Gao and Daniel Paul Dancu, all attempted to hide these discharges from the U.S. Coast Guard by making false and fictitious entries in the vessel's oil record book and garbage record book, prosecutors said.
The four men were also accused of lying to Coast Guard officers after arriving in Mobile, and of ordering lower ranking crewmembers to do the same.
At the conclusion of trial, DSD Shipping was convicted of one count of conspiracy, three counts of violating APPS, three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering. Defendant Gao was convicted of one count of conspiracy and two counts of obstruction of justice. Defendant Chen was convicted of one count of violating APPS, three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering.
Finally, Zhong was convicted of two counts of violating APPS, two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering.
Dancu pleaded guilty in October.
DSD Shipping now faces a fine of up to $500,000 per count, in addition to other possible penalties. Gao, Chen and Zhong face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice charges.
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