Ionian Shipping & Trading Corp, Lily Shipping Ltd, ship’s officers Stamatios Alekidis, Athanasios Pittas and Rey Espulgar were all convicted and sentenced for pollution, record keeping, and obstruction of justice crimes, according to US Attorney, Gretchen Shappert for the District of the US Virgin Island.
The case involved the MR ‘Ocean Princess’ in St Croix, US Virgin Islands.
The defendants’ were accused using fuel that exceeded the maximum allowable sulfur concentration in the US Caribbean Emission Control Area (ECA) and efforts to deceive US Coast Guard (USCG) inspectors about the source of the fuel being used on board the tanker.
‘Ocean Princess’ was owned by Lily Shipping and operated by Ionian Shipping & Trading, both Greece-domiciled companies. The vessel was transporting petroleum products throughout the Caribbean, including from Limetree Terminals, St Croix.
The vessel’s commercial manager would authorise the Master, Capt Alekidis, to transfer petroleum cargo from the cargo tanks into the bunker tanks. As the owner and operator of the vessel, Lily Shipping and Ionian Shipping & Trading were further responsible for ensuring the vessel used fuel that complied with the US Caribbean ECA standards, the US Department of Justice (DoE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.
Between 3rd January, 2017, and 10th July, 2018, ‘Ocean Princess’ entered into, and operated within, the ECA using fuel that contained sulfur over and above the 0.1% limit on 26 separate occasions. The fuel was petroleum cargo that had been transferred to the fuel tanks as authorised by the vessel’s commercial manager.
Once notification was received from the Master, Chief Officer Espulgar co-ordinated with Chief Engineer Pittas to make the transfers from the cargo tanks to the bunker tanks. Espulgar then falsified the Oil Record Book, Part II, by failing to record that cargo had been transferred to the bunker tanks. Pittas also falsified the Oil Record Book, Part I, by falsely recording that the fuel in the bunker tank originated from a shoreside company in St Martin.
In addition, Pittas created fictitious bunker delivery notes (BDNs) from the same shoreside company in St Martin. Between 2nd March 2016, and 6th February 2018, some 19 separate fictitious BDNs were created and kept on board the vessel.
USCG inspectors boarded the MR on 10th July, 2018, to conduct an inspection. During the inspection, the USCG discovered that the vessel was using fuel with an excessive sulfur content. Espulgar instructed some of the lower-ranking crew members to lie to the inspectors about where the fuel came from and to say the ship took on fuel in St Martin when in fact it did not.
“Protection of our unique environment and air quality are important priorities of federal law enforcement and prosecutors in the US Virgin Islands,” said US Attorney Shappert. “These convictions underscore our commitment to holding violators accountable while defending precious natural resources. I am deeply grateful for the way that the federal partners worked together during this investigation to ensure that Justice is served.”
“Ocean going vessels emit hazardous air pollutants or air toxics that are associated with adverse health effects impacting populations living near ports and coastlines,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement programme in the Virgin Islands. “EPA, along with its law enforcement partners are committed to ensuring the shipping industry continues to comply with laws designed to protect air quality.”
“The results announced today send a strong message to anyone who seeks to take short cuts and intentionally pollute our environment, and I couldn’t be prouder of the Coast Guard’s Resident Inspection Office in St Croix and Sector San Juan marine inspectors who first identified the issue as well as our Coast Guard Investigative Service agents who worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency in San Juan to investigate this case,” said Rear Adm Peter Brown, Commander Coast Guard District Seven. “We will continue to work with our Department of Justice and environmental protection partners to hold accountable any who put profit above the protection of our waters, beaches, and the air above them for future generations.”
Ionian Shipping and Lily Shipping will each pay a fine of $1.5 mill, be placed on four years of probation, and implement an Environmental Compliance Plan.
Alekidis, Pittas, and Espulgar were sentenced to three years probation and ordered not to return to the US on a ship during that time. Espulgar was also fined $3,000.