Crew members of fishing vessel San Nikunau charged along with Sanford Ltd.

Two senior crew members of the New Zealand based fishing vessel San Nikunau have been charged by federal prosecutors at the federal court in Washington D.C., the same court hearing the U.S. Justice Department case against Sanford Limited, owner of the San Nikunau, detained last year in the territory by the U.S. Coast Guard for allegedly discharging oily bilge into the waters of American Samoa.

James Pogue and Rolando Ong Vano have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation. Vano is facing an additional charge of obstruction of justice.

Pogue and Vano are charged along with Sanford Limited under a superseding indictment handed down early last month at the federal court in Washington D.C. The superseding indictment incorporates the initial charges against Sanford Limited — filed last year — and adds on the two senior crew members.

The defendants entered not guilty pleas during arraignment on Jan.13 before U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell.  Pogue and Vano have been released on their own recognizance, with a status hearing set for next month for the defendants — including Sanford Limited, who is charged with violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

The alleged violation of the AAPS occurred on the San Nikunau, while in the waters of American Samoa.

As for Pogue and Vano, both had served as chief engineers for the vessel at separate times during the alleged crime, the indictment states, and alleges that the pair did knowingly and willfully conspire, confederate and agree with each other to knowingly fail to maintain an Oil Record Book for the San Nikunau in which all operations involving the transfer of oil and oily water, including all overboard discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste, were fully recorded and falsely recorded that the Oil Water Separator was used when it was not — in violation of federal law.

Between Nov. 25, 2006 and July 9, 2010 during fishing voyages ending in the territory, Sanford, Pogue and other members (not identified by name in the indictment) of the conspiracy, directed subordinates to discharge and caused the discharge of machinery space bilge waste from the vessel directly overboard into the sea, bypassing the ship’s Oil Water Separator and other required pollution prevention equipment without recording the discharge into the vessel’s Oil Record Book.

Additionally, Sanford and Vano conspired with others to carry out the same crime on three separate dates between July 2008 and July 2011, the indictment alleges.

It further alleges that Vano corruptly, obstructed, impeded and endeavored to influence, obstruct, and impede the due and proper administration of the law under a pending proceeding by the federal government during an inspection of San Nikunau to determine the vessel’s compliance with international and U.S. law.

The defendant is alleged to have falsely stated to U.S. Coast Guard personnel that oily bilge waste was not directly discharged overboard from the vessel and the Oily Water Separator was being properly used on the vessel.

Prosecutors reiterated that it is seeking to forfeit $24.86 million from Sanford, which is the amount of revenue the company collected during the time frame the alleged crime occurred.

Sanford has denied any wrong doing and has vowed to aggressively defend the company.

Meanwhile, Radio New Zealand International reports last month that Sanford informed its shareholders that first quarter catch and production levels fell 3%, mainly due to the detention of the San Nikunau in American Samoa for six months last year.

The vessel was detained in Pago Pago last July by the Coast Guard and was finally released in late December 2011 after a $1 million bond was posted by Sanford in Washington D.C.

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