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San Nikunau chief engineer pleads guilty to violating pollution law

Former chief engineer Rolando Ong Vano, of the New Zealand based fishing vessel San Nikunau, pleaded guilty Tuesday at the federal court in Washington D.C. to violating the federal Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

Vano served as the chief engineer on the vessel owned by Sanford Ltd., during several fishing trips to the South Pacific between March 2006 and July 2011. Vano is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 7 before U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell.

Vano was released on $50,000 bond and $5,000 cash security posted with the Pre Trial Office, who was ordered by the court to release Vano’s passport so he could travel to his home country of the Philippines.

The defendant is required by the federal government to return to the U.S. any time he is needed to provide testimony in any hearings and during trial of his co-defendants set later this year.

Sanford Ltd. and a prior chief engineer (James Pogue) from the San Nikunau have been charged with obstruction of justice and APPS violations. Charges against the defendants, including Vano, stem from the time the vessel was fishing in the waters of American Samoa. The local Guard Coast unit discovered the alleged the violations during an inspection of the vessel in American Samoa in July 2011.

According to the plea agreement, Vano admitted to falsifying the oil record book and lying to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors that the oil water separator was used on the vessel when in fact it was not. 

Additionally, it was learned that it was routine practice onboard the vessel to discharge directly into the sea oily bilge waste from the engine room and other areas of the vessel without using required pollution prevention equipment.

Before such waste can be discharged into the sea, it must first pass through an oil water separator, and the operation must be recorded in the vessel’s oil record book, according to federal prosecutors.

In his statement of offense filed with federal court Tuesday, Coast Guard inspectors boarded the vessel on July 15 of last year and Vano escorted the inspectors through the engine room. The defendant lied to inspectors that the vessel had abided with all oily bilge waste rules.

Meanwhile, Sanford filed last week a motion asking the federal court to dismiss the superseding indictment against the defendant for alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the grand jury probe into this case.

However, details of the motion are sealed per order of the court along with other motions between the defendants and prosecutors, according to electronic court records.

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