Sanford Ltd., New Zealand’s second-biggest fishing company, was convicted in a U.S. court in Washington of dumping oil waste at sea and covering up its actions.
A federal jury yesterday found that a Sanford vessel, the San Nikunau, which routinely delivered tuna to American Samoa, discharged oily bilge waste into the sea around the island since at least 2007. The Auckland-based company was also convicted of conspiracy, presenting false documents and deceiving the U.S. Coast Guard, exposing the company to fines of as much as $3 million. Sanford was acquitted of obstructing justice.
The chief engineer of the San Nikunau, James Pouge, 52, was convicted of violating international shipping law by failing to keep an accurate record book and of obstruction of justice. He faces a possible 20-year sentence. He was acquitted of allegedly directing the ship’s crew to dump waste directly into the sea. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell set sentencing for Nov. 16.
“The prosecution demonstrates our commitment to enforcing environmental laws and protecting our precious natural resources,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a statement.
The verdict was “naturally disappointing,” Sanford Managing Director Eric Barratt said in a statement to the New Zealand stock exchange. The case, he said, “highlights the need to work diligently to properly maintain the required logs and records regarding the management of oily wastes aboard vessels.”
The U.S. belongs to an international convention that regulates discharges of oil from ships. The U.S enforces the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships in waters under its jurisdiction, including those around American Samoa and the port of Pago Pago, where the San Nikunau ended its fishing voyages.
The U.S. charged Sanford with telling the San Nikunau’s crew to dump the ship’s bilge waste directly into the ocean, rather than first passing it through pollution control equipment, according to the indictment.
The ship’s former chief engineer, Rolando Ong Vano, pleaded guilty April 18 to covering up environmental crimes. In the plea agreement, the engineer said it was routine practice by the company to discharge oily bilge waste into the sea, bypassing cleanup equipment. He admitted to falsifying the oil record book and lying to Coast Guard inspectors, according to court filings.
The case is U.S. v. Sanford Ltd., 11-cr-00352, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).