A German shipping company and one of its engineers have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges involving wastewater dumping in U.S. waters off Alaska.
AML Ship Management GMBH and chief engineer Nicholas Sassin admitted that the City of Tokyo – a large AML-operated ship that was carrying vehicles from South Korea to the U.S. West Coast – pumped 4,500 gallons of oily bilge water overboard while sailing 165 miles south of the Aleutian Islands, according to plea agreements filed Thursday in federal courts in Anchorage and Portland.
The dumping took place on or about Aug. 29, according to court documents. The oily bilge water was sent directly overboard through a makeshift hose-and-pump system that bypassed the ship's legally mandated oil-water separator, according to court documents.
The company and Sassin have each agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Clean Water Act and another count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The Clean Water Act charges, filed in Anchorage, concern the actual dumping; the APPS charges, filed in Portland, concern falsified wastewater records that court documents say were turned over to authorities when the City of Tokyo arrived in Portland, the ship's delivery destination.
AML Ship Management GMBH has agreed to pay $800,000 in fines and community service payments, to undergo an environmental compliance plan to improve operations and to serve three years of criminal probation, according to the plea agreement. Sassin's plea agreement does not specify a penalty deal between the parties, but it does include a commitment from federal prosecutors to recommend a six-month prison term.
The maximum possible penalty for each of the violations is a $500,000 fine for the company and a $250,000 fine and a three-year prison term for Sassin, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis.
The conduct qualifies as criminal rather than civil, Feldis said.
"In this case, we have knowing and intentional conduct. This is not a case where there's an accident," he said.
The location of the dumping – 165 miles south of Sanak Island – was remote. Prosecuting cases of misconduct that occur in such distant places can be difficult, Feldis said.
"That is one of the challenges that we face as investigators and prosecutors and, really, as citizens – determining when these crimes happen when they happen so far away," he said.
Crew members alerted authorities to the illegal dumping, he said. "In this case, we had people who followed the law and did what was right," he said.
Sassin and the rest of the City of Tokyo crew remain in Portland, Feldis said. The ship, a Liberian-flagged vessel 603 feet long, has been allowed to leave Portland because AML posted a bond, he said.
Prosecutors are seeking to manage the AML case in Anchorage and the Sassin case in Portland, Feldis said.
Arraignments for AML and Sassin have not yet been scheduled.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing