Assistant U. S. Attorney Melanie Pierson (619) 546-7976
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – September 9, 2022
SAN DIEGO – New Trade Ship Management S.A., a vessel operating company, and vessel Chief Engineer Dennis Plasabas were sentenced in federal court today for environmental crimes.
The company and its engineer pleaded guilty August 9, 2022, to maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge water from the bulk carrier vessel Longshore. New Trade was sentenced to pay a fine of $1.1 million, a term of four years of probation, and ordered to hire an independent monitor to audit environmental compliance during the period of probation; Plasabas was sentenced to a term of 12 months in custody.
In pleading guilty, New Trade and Plasabas admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Longshore directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. The defendants also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s Oil Record Book as required by law.
Specifically, on two separate occasions between October and December 2021, Chief Engineer Plasabas, who was employed by New Trade, ordered lower-ranking crew members to use a portable pneumatic pump and hose to bypass pollution prevention equipment by transferring oily bilge water from the vessel’s Bilge Holding Tank to the vessel’s Sewage Tank, from where it was discharged directly into the ocean.
Plasabas then caused the ship’s Master to fail to record these improper transfers and overboard discharges in the vessel’s Oil Record Book. Additionally, to create a false and misleading electronic record as if the pollution prevention equipment had been properly used, Plasabas directed lower-ranking crew members to pump clean sea water into the vessel’s Bilge Holding Tank in the same quantity as the amount of oily bilge water that he had ordered transferred to the Sewage Tank. Plasabas then processed the clean sea water through the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment as if it was oily bilge water to make it appear that the pollution prevention equipment was being properly used when in fact it was not. The electronic records indicate that approximately 9,600 gallons of clean sea water were run through the pollution prevention equipment.
“Today’s sentence sends a strong message that environmental crimes will have serious consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Unlawful oil discharges have a serious negative impact on the marine environment. We must safeguard our oceans by vigorous enforcement of environmental laws.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and the U.S. Coast Guard for their excellent work on this case.
According to sentencing documents, the use or consumption of oil, including the intentional discharge of unfiltered oily bilge water, accounts for around 37 percent of worldwide ocean oil pollution. By contrast, accidental spills from ships account for 12 percent of oil pollution. As the National Academy of Sciences identified, the upshot of these statistics is that more than 99 percent of the estimated volume of operational discharge is related to noncompliance, because existing regulations restrict operational discharges of oil or limit them to not more than 15 ppm.
Marine mammal and bird species, which must regularly pass through the air-water interface to breathe, are particularly vulnerable to oil exposure. Effects of oil on ocean life may include ingestion of oil, accumulation of contaminants in tissues, DNA damage, impacts to immune functioning, cardiac dysfunction, mass mortality of eggs and larvae, e.g., in fish, loss of buoyancy and insulation for birds, and inhalation of vapors. A 2002 study undertaken in Canada estimated that the intentional discharge of oil from ships kills approximately 300,000 seabirds per year in Atlantic Canada – a yearly seabird mortality equal to that caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson for the Southern District of California and Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Da Ponte of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 22cr1802-JO
New Trade Ship Management S.A.
Chief Engineer Dennis Plasabas Age: 48 Philippines
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships – Title 33, U.S.C., Section 1908(a)
Maximum penalty: Six years in prison and $250,000 fine (individual); Five years of probation and a fine which is the greater of $500,000 or twice the amount of gross gain or loss (organization).
U.S. Coast Guard