Tuna vessel operator convicted for oil discharges off American Samoa
HONOLULU — An American tuna fishing company that regularly unloaded its catch in American Samoa, was convicted and sentenced Thursday for discharging oil into the South Pacific and for maintaining false records, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. [restrict]
The company, Pacific Breeze Fisheries LLC, owned the Fishing Vessel F/V Pacific Breeze, a tuna purse seiner that was responsible for the pollution.
Pacific Breeze Fisheries admitted that its engineers failed to document the illegal dumping of oily bilge water into the waters off American Samoa without the use of required pollution prevention equipment. These discharges occurred on at least two occasions, in 2014 and 2015, before the vessel brought fish to a cannery in the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa.
The company further admitted that between October 2013 and July 2015, senior engineers regularly failed to accurately record the transfer and disposal of oil waste in the vessel’s Oil Record Book. The U.S. Coast Guard relies on such records to determine whether vessels are illegally dumping oil at sea. As a result, tons of oil sludge, waste oil and oily bilge water that were produced by the vessel remain unaccounted for.
The company pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for the District of Columbia to four felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, for failing to accurately maintain an Oil Record Book and for illegally discharging oily bilge water into the South Pacific. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the company will pay a $1.6 million fine, in addition to a community service payment of $400,000 for use in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Though Pacific Breeze Fisheries does not currently manage any active fishing vessels, the company also agreed to implement an extensive environmental compliance plan in the event it resumes operations.
On Oct. 25, Jeon Seon Han, the former Chief Engineer of the F/V Pacific Breeze, pleaded guilty in the District of Hawaii for his role in obstructing the U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the vessel in American Samoa in 2015. Han admitted to lying to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors about the disposal of sludge and to ordering the disassembly of an illegal discharge system before the inspection. Sentencing for Han is scheduled for February 2017.
The case against Pacific Breeze Fisheries was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard personnel in American Samoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Kenneth E. Nelson and Trial Attorney Brendan Selby of the Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick W. Yette of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. [/restrict]