The Chief Engineer of a foreign flagged vessel pleaded guilty today to two felony counts for deliberately discharging approximately 10,000 gallons of oil-contaminated bilge water overboard in U.S. waters off the coast of New Orleans last year and then trying to obstruct the Coast Guard’s investigation of the spill. The illegal conduct was first reported to the Coast Guard by a crew member via social media.
Kirill Kompaniets, a Russian national and the Chief Engineer of the ship, a commercial bulk carrier registered in the Marshall Islands, was charged with the illegal discharge in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. According to papers filed in Court, repair operations were underway to correct a problem with the discharge of clean ballast water when a valve burst and the engine room flooded. Late on the night of March 13-14, 2021 after the leak had been controlled, Kompaniets and a subordinate engineer deliberately dumped the oil contaminated water in the bilges overboard. The discharge into U.S. waters occurred while the ship was at an anchorage near the South West Passage off the Louisiana coast. The ship’s required pollution prevention equipment – an oily-water separator and oil content monitor – were not used, and the discharge was not recorded in the Oil Record Book, a required ship log.
Kompaniets was also charged with obstruction of justice based on various efforts to conceal the illegal discharge. In a joint factual statement filed in Court with his guilty plea, Kompaniets admitted to the following acts of obstruction of justice: (1) making false statements to the Coast Guard that concealed the cause and nature of a hazardous condition, and concealing that the engine room of the vessel had flooded and that oil-contaminated bilge water had been discharged overboard; (2) destroying the computer alarm printouts for the period of the illegal discharge that were sought by the Coast Guard; (3) holding meetings with subordinate crew members and directing them to make false statements to the Coast Guard; (4) making a false Oil Record Book that failed to disclose the illegal discharge; (5) directing subordinate engine room employees to delete all evidence from their cell phones in anticipation of the Coast Guard inspection; and (6) preparing a retaliatory document accusing the whistleblower of poor performance as part of an effort to discredit him.
“The intentional pollution of U.S. waters and the deliberate effort to cover up the crime are extremely serious criminal offenses that will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Prosecutions such as this one should send a clear message to those that would violate the law and endanger our precious natural resources.”
“The defendant in this case deliberately disregarded procedures designed to protect the environment from contaminants and then attempted to hide his actions,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans. “Today’s announcement emphasizes that our office along with our federal partners are committed to holding accountable all parties whose criminality jeopardizes our environment and places the public and the ecosystem at risk.”
The criminal prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Dall Kammer for the Eastern District of Louisiana and Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section, with assistance provided by District 8 of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Criminal Investigations Division.
The investigation is continuing.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown. Sentencing has been scheduled for September 1.