Shipping giant Zeaborn Ship Management has recently pleaded guilty to charges related to a falsified oil record book and illegal discharge of oily bilge water from its vessel, the freighter Star Maia, during the previous year. The company has become the latest in a string of operators facing stringent enforcement actions by the U.S. Coast Guard concerning international oil pollution regulations, often resulting in substantial financial settlements.
Prosecutors have revealed that both Zeaborn and Star Maia’s chief engineer admitted to intentionally releasing over 7,500 gallons of untreated oily bilge water into the ocean, bypassing the vessel’s oil-water separator. This environmentally hazardous practice, prohibited by international treaties and federal law, was further aggravated by the falsification of the ship’s oil record book to conceal these illicit discharges.
While such violations might lead to a deficiency note or detention during foreign inspections, in the United States, manipulating an oil record book constitutes a felony offense.
Compounding the infractions, the ship’s captain confessed to a peculiar method of signaling distress by burning trash on deck in empty barrels and subsequently discarding them overboard. This unconventional disposal approach, not documented in the mandatory garbage record book as required by federal regulations, raised additional concerns.
Capt. James W. Spitler, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego, emphasized, “Illegal dumping of oil, falsification of oil record books and flagrant disregard for air emission requirements are egregious violations. These guilty pleas should serve as a reminder that the Coast Guard and our partners at the Justice Department will work tirelessly to hold accountable those that seek to deliberately harm the maritime environment.”
Both the captain and chief engineer of Star Maia have pleaded guilty to felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. Their sentencing is scheduled for December 1, where consequences for failing to maintain accurate garbage and oil record books will be determined.
Zeaborn, in addition to its pleas, has agreed to pay a fine of $1.5 million and make a community service payment of $500,000. The company will also be subjected to a four-year probation period, including rigorous environmental compliance oversight for its U.S. port activities.
Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden for the Southern District of California stressed, “Unlawful oil discharges can cause significant harm to the marine environment. We will continue to safeguard our oceans by vigorous enforcement of environmental laws. Today’s case is a reflection of that commitment.”