$10m fine for ‘magic pipe’ pollution ship

A shipping company has been fined a record US$10m after sailors deliberately pumped huge quantities of oily sludge into the Atlantic.

The Hong Kong-based firm, MSC Ship Management, was also ordered to pay a further US$500,000 to charities which educate mariners on the importance of observing environmental good practice when at sea.

The fine is the largest ever imposed by a Massachusetts court for an environmental crime.

Charges followed the discovery of what crew referred to as the ‘magic pipe’ during a routine inspection of the container ship MSC Elena by the Coast Guard in Boston Harbour in May this year.

The specially-fitted pipe was used to circumvent pollution prevention equipment by pumping oil sludge and other oil-contaminated waste directly into the ocean.

Senior company officials told crew to lie to the coast guard about its purpose and senior crew ordered their subordinates to conceal or destroy documents that would have highlighted the crime.

“This is the largest fine involving deliberate pollution from a single ship in a long series of similar prosecutions that have been brought as part of a vessel pollution initiative,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Deliberate vessel pollution is a serious and persistent problem which we will prosecute to the full extent of the law.”

Michael Sullivan, US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said: “Residents of Massachusetts and particularly have experienced first-hand the devastation to the environment that can result from accidental oil spills. However, there was nothing accidental about this case.”

“The defendant knowingly violated anti-pollution laws, intentionally dumping oil-contaminated waste directly into the ocean–and even went so far as to manufacture a so-called ‘magic pipe’ to accomplish the crime.

“Our hope is that this substantial US$10m fine will send a strong message to those in the maritime community who would try to circumvent anti-pollution laws.”

As it plied Atlantic trade routes between Europe and the US the ship discharged some 40 tons of sludge during a five-month period in 2004 and an even larger volume of oil-contaminated bilge waste was also discharged with a rubber hose and portable pump.

By Sam Bond

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