Two Greek shipping companies, Avin International LTD and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises, were sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas on charges stemming from several discharges of oil into the waters of Texas ports by the oil tanker M/T Nicos I.V.
Avin International was the operator and Nicos I.V. Special Maritime Enterprises was the owner of the Nicos I.V., which is a Greek-flagged vessel. The Master of the Nicos I.V., Rafail-Thomas Tsoumakos, and the vessel’s Chief Officer, Alexios Thomopoulos, also pleaded guilty to making material false statements to members of the United States Coast Guard during the investigation into the discharges.
Both companies pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, 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 on Nov. 26, 2018. Under the plea agreement, the companies will pay a $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. Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos both pleaded guilty to one count of making a material false statement and were sentenced to pay fines of $10,000 each on Dec. 20, 2018.
“Our nation, including the State of Texas, rely on America’s ports and coastal waters for trade, recreation, and environmental enjoyment. Foreign companies acting in defiance of the laws and regulations that protect these valued resources threaten adjacent communities as well as marine ecosystems more broadly,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. “The Division remains committed to pursuing justice for these offenders, and today’s action stands as proof of that commitment.”
“Our coastal waterways are critically important,” said United States Attorney Joseph Brown. “Companies that use them are expected to help maintain them by abiding by the Clean Water Act. When they do not, there will continue to be investigations and consequences for those violations. Furthermore, individuals are always expected to tell the truth when investigations are required, and failure to deal truthfully with investigators always makes a situation worse.”
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. Both Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos were informed of the discharges of oil in the Port of Houston. Tsoumakos failed to report the discharges, which, as the person in charge of the vessel, he was required to do under the Clean Water Act. Neither discharge was recorded in the vessel’s oil record book, as required under MARPOL and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
After leaving the Port of Houston, en route to Port Arthur, Texas, oil was observed in several of the ballast tanks. After arriving in Port Arthur, additional oil began bubbling up next to the vessel, which was then reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. During the ensuing investigation, both Tsoumakos and Thomopoulos lied to the Coast Guard, stating, among other things, that they had not been aware of the oil in the ballast system until after the discharge in Port Arthur, and that they believed that the oil in the ballast tanks had entered them when the vessel took on ballast water in Port Arthur.