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A cargo ship that visited the Port of Pensacola and dumped oil into Pensacola-area waters has been has been banned from U.S. waters for five years and its German owners ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines and penalties.

Owners of the BBC Magellan admitted using a bypass hose to illegally dump oil-contaminated wastewater, falsifying their record books and tampering with witnesses who spoke to the U.S. Coast Guard in the case.

The German shipping companies Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG and Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co. KG MS “Extum,” were sentenced to pay a total of $1.25 million in fines and a $250,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects that enhance coastal habitats of the Gulf of Mexico and bolster priority fish and wildlife populations.

The Port of Pensacola. (Laura Bogan/Special to The Pulse)

The Port of Pensacola. (Laura Bogan/Special to The Pulse)

International and U.S. law requires that vessels like the BBC Magellan use pollution prevention equipment to preclude the discharge of contaminated materials. Should any overboard discharges occur, they must be documented in an oil record book, a log that is regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In March 2015, during an inspection at the Port of Pensacola, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered an improperly attached rubber hose. Officials later determined that, between January and March 2015, the crew of the BBC Magellan, acting on behalf of the vessel’s owner, had installed and illegally used the rubber hose to remove oily wastes from the vessel’s holding tanks and discharged them directly into the ocean. The crew also failed to make the required entries in the vessel’s oil record book. When questioned about the hose’s purpose and how oily wastes were discharged from the ship, the chief engineer instructed other crew members to lie to the Coast Guard.

“Future generations deserve to enjoy clean and safe coastal waters, and we will continue to prosecute environmental crimes to prevent pollution of our natural resources,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova. “Our federal environmental laws rightfully require companies to record their oil waste disposal to keep them accountable and to protect our oceans and marine life.”

Officials with the City of Pensacola, which operates the port, said the Coast Guard is responsible for inspections & compliance enforcement for ships docked at Port and that this is the first such case of its kind in the Northern District of Florida.

“The Coast Guard discovered the illegal discharge system during a routine inspection of the vessel,” said city spokesman Vernon Stewart. “There was no evidence that any illegal discharge occurred at dock, only while transiting the bay.”

Federal officials said this case is a warning to shipping companies that transport commerce across the open seas and openly defy laws and regulations of commerce.

“This egregious behavior by shipping companies, which included intentional deception and witness tampering, will not be tolerated,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General John C. Cruden. “We will continue to prosecute companies and their officers for these crimes.”

“When a company knowingly fails to comply with our nation’s environmental laws, it can have a devastating effect on both public health and wildlife,” said Andy Castro, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Florida. “The defendants in this case falsified entries in their vessel’s log books to hide the true nature of its open water discharges. Today’s court action should signal to would-be violators that the American people will not allow the flagrant violation of U.S. laws.”

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