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DOJ seeks $24 Million from Sanford Limited for polluting local waters

The more than $24 million the U.S. Justice Department is seeking as forfeiture from New Zealand based Sanford Limited is the amount of money the company’s fishing San Nikunau earned in revenues for its trips to off-load fish at the local cannery over a four year period, according to federal court documents. 

Last week Tuesday a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. handed down a seven count indictment against Sanford for the alleged violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

The indictment alleges that the San Nikunau— detained in Pago Pago since July this year— has discharged oil waste in American Samoa waters since at least 2007 and seeks among other things, criminal forfeiture from Sanford of more than $24 million for proceeds derived by Sanford as a result of the criminal conduct.

According to the indictment unsealed last Thursday, Sanford gained — during the time period relevant in this indictment — revenues of $24,862,954.89 (or $24.86 million) for the offloading of fish cargo from the San Nikunau in American Samoa, even though the vessel was not in compliance with international and United States law and therefore could have been prevented from entering American Samoa and offloading fish cargo.

The indictment details how much money the company received for offloading fish for each month starting from March 2007 ($1.01 million) — to July this year ( $2.02 million). It states that the company collected $6.06 million in 2007; $9.27 million in 2008; $4.62 million in 2009; $2.88 million in 2010; and $2.02 million in 2011 — just for July alone.

The 18-page indictment describes a conspiracy wherein the crew of the vessel routinely discharged, since at least 2007, oily bilge waste from the vessel directly into the sea during its fishing voyages. The indictment outlined specific months that the alleged crime occurred.

“Defendant regularly and routinely used, and directed the use of, eductors, hoses, and pumps to discharge oily bilge waste from machinery spaces on the vessel directly into the sea, including discharging oily bilge waste onto the wet deck of the vessel where tuna and other fish are sorted and processed,” the indictment alleges.

Sanford was also charged with violating the APPS by failing to accurately maintain an oil record book for the vessel, and with obstruction of justice for presenting false documents and deceiving the Coast Guard during an inspection.

Examples of deceiving the Coast Guard inspection, according to the indictment, occurred July 15 this year, when the fishing vessel’s First Mate (aka Navigator) “instructed a crew-member while in the galley of the vessel... to falsely tell... Coast Guard personnel that only water is pumped overboard from the vessel.”

Also on the same date, it alleges, the First Mate instructed a crew-member during a vehicle ride to a Coast Guard office, to falsely tell Coast Guard personnel that only water is pumped overboard from the vessel.

No hearing date for this case has been scheduled yet but Sanford has said in a statement that it will “vigorously defend the charges”.

This case stems from an investigation by the local Coast Guard office, who then forwarded their findings to the U.S. Justice Department. Court records show a federal grand jury convened Nov. 12 to receive testimonies and information before handing down the indictment Dec. 6.

Lt. Steven Caskey, supervisor of the local Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment unit, said yesterday the fishing vessel remains in the territory due to the federal indictment.