Empire Bulkers has been charged in New Orleans for violations of environmental and safety laws related to the 33,700 dwt bulk carrier Joanna. The four-count grand jury indictment alleges that the companies and chief engineer tampered with required oil pollution prevention equipment and falsified the ship’s oil record book.
The US Coast Guard, which regularly inspects these books, found that the ships’ oily water separator had been bypassed by inserting a piece of metal into the oil content meter so that it would only detect clean water instead of what was being discharged overboard. According to the indictment, chief engineer Warlito Tan and the shipping companies Empire Bulkers and Joanna Maritime Limited falsified the log and sought to obstruct the Coast Guard’s inspection.
The companies and Tan were also charged with violating the Ports and Waterways Safety Act by failing to immediately report a hazardous situation that affected the safety of the ship and threatened US ports and waters. During the inspection on March 11, 2021, the Coast Guard discovered an active fuel oil leak in the ship’s purifier room that resulted from disabling the fuel oil heater pressure relief valves, an essential safety feature designed to prevent catastrophic fires and explosions.
The criminal prosecution is being handled by assistant US attorney G. Dall Kammer and senior litigation counsel Richard A. Udell of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. An indictment contains probable cause allegations made by a grand jury and must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.