Jul 29, 2011 6:57 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A whistleblower's complaint about a cargo ship dumping waste in the ocean led Thursday to a $1 million fine levied against four companies that own and operate a fleet of vessels that regularly call on New Orleans.
The conglomerate also was banned by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier from operating in the United States for up to five years.
In April, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, Stanships Inc. of New York, Standard Shipping Inc. and Calmore Maritime Ltd., pleaded guilty to 32 felony counts of violating ship safety and pollution standards, along with obstruction of justice.
A whistleblower aboard the M/V Americana - part of the conglomerate's fleet - told the Coast Guard last November that the ship was dumping sludge and oily waste through the use of a pipe to bypass required pollution equipment. Prosecutors said the whistleblower provided cell phone pictures of the device being used at sea.
The ship's owners also were accused of falsifying a record book to hide the illegal discharges.
An ensuing investigation also resulted in the owners being accused of violating safety standards for trying to conceal the failure of the ship's generators. According to prosecutors, the ship arrived at the Southwest Pass - a major entry point to the Mississippi River - after losing power for several days at sea. A manager ordered the ship's captain to falsely tell the Coast Guard that the ship had two operating generators. The master eventually ordered tugboats to guide the ship into port.
According to court records, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, was a repeat offender, committing new violations after it was fined $700,000 for illegal discharges and falsifying records with another ship on Sept. 29.
On April 27, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan revoked the company's probation and banned the company's ships from further trade in the United States.
Barbier ordered $250,000 of the latest fine to go to projects benefiting fish resources.