Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Tuna Fishers Settle After American Samoa Oil Spill

HONOLULU (CN) - Three companies agreed Wednesday to pay $1.05 million in civil penalties to settle claims stemming from a 2014 oil spill in American Samoa.

The United States filed the complaint and consent decree simultaneously in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

It says Tri-Marine Management, Cape Mendocino Fishing a third affiliate "are liable for the October 2014 oil spill from their 230-foot commercial tuna fishing vessel, the Capt. Vincent Gann, into Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa."

"After the Capt. Vincent Gann returned to Pago Pago Harbor from a two-month fishing voyage, it struck two moored fishing vessels while maneuvering in the harbor on Oct. 16, 2014," according to a statement from the Justice Department. "The hull of the Capt. Vincent Gann was breached during the crash and at least 35 barrels of marine fuel oil flowed out of the bulbous bow into the water."

Prosecutors note that "it is illegal to store fuel in the bulbous bow."

Tri-Marine allowed the illegal oil storage "to extend the duration of the fishing voyage and allow storage of a larger catch of fish," according to the Justice Department statement.

"The extra fuel oil had been stored in two of the fish holds, but the oil was transferred out of the fish holds to the bulbous bow to make room for storage of tuna in those fish holds," the statement continues.

Tri-Marine also equipped its vessel "with unlawful piping configurations that tied the bilge water system into the fuel system," and it loaded the extra fuel into the vessel using an unauthorized method of pumping fuel oil with hoses over the top of the deck into open fish holds, the government says.

In addition to payment of the civil penalties, the consent decree requires Tri-Marine to perform inspections and corrective measures across its entire fleet of 10 American Samoa-based vessels.

The corrective measures include "a top-to-bottom review and overhaul of all of the vessels' oil handling practices, operator certifications, independent audits, increased reporting, and the engagement of a full-time consultant or in-house personnel focused on environmental and maritime compliance."

Assistant Attorney General John Cruden noted that Pago Pago Harbor is "a sensitive and valuable marine environment."

The government will deposit Tri-Marine's penalty in its Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, managed by the National Pollution Fund Center

A 30-day period for public comment must occur before the court can review and approve the settlement.

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