Two Greek shipping companies have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from several discharges of oil into the waters of Texas ports by the oil tanker M/T Nicos I.V., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Namely, Avin International Ltd and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises, the operator and owner of the Greek-flagged vessel, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, as well as one count of failure to report discharge of oil under the Clean Water Act, and three counts of negligent discharge of oil under the Clean Water Act.
Under the plea agreement, the companies will pay a USD 4 million criminal fine and serve a four-year term of probation, during which vessels operated by the companies will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan, including inspections by an independent auditor.
The Master of the tanker, Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos, and the vessel’s Chief Officer, Alexios Thomopoulos, also pleaded guilty each to one count of making a material false statement to members of the United States Coast Guard during the investigation into the discharges and face up to five years in prison when sentenced. A sentencing date has not been set.
According to documents filed in court, the Nicos I.V. was equipped with a segregated ballast system, a connected series of tanks used to control the trim and list of the vessel by taking on or discharging water, the latter involving an operation called deballasting. At some point prior to July 6, 2017, the ballast system of the Nicos I.V. became contaminated with oil and that oil was discharged twice from the vessel into the Port of Houston on July 6 and July 7, 2017, during deballasting operations.
After leaving the Port of Houston, en route to Port Arthur, Texas, the deck crew was instructed to open the ballast tanks, and oil was observed in several of the tanks. After arriving in Port Arthur, additional oil began bubbling up next to the vessel, causing a report to the U.S. Coast Guard.