Last week a federal jury in Alabama convicted Norwegian shipping company Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab Shipping of various criminal charges arising under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. Three crewmembers were also convicted after a 2 week trial. A fourth crewmember had previously pleaded guilty.
The company, which commonly known as DSD Shipping, could face $4 million in penalties when sentenced on February 11th of next year. Because a jury also convicted the company of witness tampering and obstruction of justice, we expect the fines to be quite high.
According to the indictment, the M/T Stavanger Blossom is a 784 foot oil tanker. Large cargo ships and tankers are required to have a working oil separator to keep oil in bilge water from polluting the ocean. For months, the Stavanger Blossom’s system was broken yet that didn’t stop the crew from dumping sludge and oily water into the ocean. The Coast Guard claims that up to 20,000 gallons were illegally dumped before the crew was caught.
To further conceal their actions, the engineering officers falsified logbooks to make it appear that the ship was in compliance with the law. The company even resorted to intimidation and threats to keep crewmembers silent.
MARPOL, Oil Pollution and Whistleblower Awards
There are only a handful of federal laws that pay awards to whistleblowers. The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships is one of the very rare criminal statutes with a whistleblower award provision. Enacted as part of the MARPOL treaty, ships are prevented from discharging oily water into the ocean anywhere in the world.
Under the Act, crew members that become whistleblowers and report illegal pollution discharges can receive up to 50% of whatever the government collects. Marine Defenders claims that whistleblower tips are behind over half the successful oil dumping charges against big ships.
We don’t know yet if any of the crewmembers that were threatened ultimately became whistleblowers. That information probably will not be known until after sentencing in the criminal case. Seamen, officers and engineers that report pollution are eligible for awards, however.
If you know of a ship illegally discharging pollutants into the water, you may be eligible for an award. U.S. law may also protect you from retaliation and can pay double lost wages and legal fees too. These recoveries are in addition to any award.
Interested in learning more about whistleblowers, oil pollution and the Act to Prevent Pollution for Ships? Give us a call. Our whistleblower clients have received more than $100 million in award monies. See also our MARPOL treaty whistleblower cornerstone content with even more recent information.
MahanyLaw – America’s Whistleblower Lawyers