The operator of a UK registered container ship has been ordered to pay £17,311.01 for breaching oil pollution legislation.
The Ever Sigma – operated by Evergreen Marine – was en route from Greece to the Netherlands when 700 litres of heavy fuel oil went overboard.
The incident occurred when the chief engineer decided to carry out an internal transfer of heavy fuel oil using 2 pumps.
The heavy fuel oil was not pre-heated prior to the transfer – and the vessel’s master was not informed.
A precautionary alarm sounded when the tank reached 336 tonnes (69% full). However, the use of 2 pumps continued for another hour when the transfer was stopped when the fuel level reached 417 tonnes (85% full).
Shortly afterwards, the ship’s bosun – a senior crewman of the deck – was doing rounds when he noticed heavy fuel oil spilling onto the deck through an air pipe. The alarm was raised and clean-up operations on board began. This took about 9 hours.
Unfortunately, some heavy fuel oil spilt overboard about 83 miles off Kalamata in Greece.
About 27 hours after the spill occurred, the Ever Sigma reported the incident to the Italian authorities. The ship was advised by the Italian Coastguard to report the incident to Greece. This was done. On arrival in Rotterdam, the vessel was inspected by Dutch officials who conducted their own investigation. Information was passed to the UK as flag state to ultimately deal with the matter.
By pumping cold heavy fuel oil with two pumps, the ship’s staff had over-pressurised the tank, which then forced it out through an air pipe.
There was also a breakdown in the ship’s safety management system and procedures were not followed during the incident, which occurred on 24 January, 2013.
The operator was fined £10,000, plus costs of £7,191.01, and a victim surcharge of £120 after pleading guilty to a breach of oil pollution legislation.
In passing sentence at a hearing held on 29 April 2014 at Southampton Magistrates’ Court, Chairman of the Magistrates’ Bench Mr Patz said:
“If the heavy fuel oil hadn’t been seen by the bosun, the incident could have been much worse. The delay in reporting the incident was also unacceptable.”
The operator’s early guilty plea, cooperation with the authorities, and previous good character was commended in court.
Jonathan Simpson, Head of Environmental Policy at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), said:
“When carrying out routine internal transfers of fuel it is essential that ships follow procedures set in their safety management system – they have been put in place for a reason.
Also, if a spill does occur, it should be reported promptly to the local authorities. The MCA would like to thank the Greek and Dutch authorities for their assistance in this matter.”