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Pacific Breeze Fishery LLC fined for illegally discharging oil in local waters

Court docs note vessel is presently in South Korea awaiting sale or to be scrapped

A US tuna fishing company, whose fishing vessel was accused of illegally discharging oil in the waters off American Samoa and then lied about it, has agreed in federal court to pay a $1.6 million fine, and a separate community service payment for use at the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

US Justice Department had charged Pacific Breeze Fishery LLC, which is incorporated in the state of Delaware with an office in Guam, with four felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, for failing to accurately maintain an Oil Record Book and for illegally discharging oily bilge water into the South Pacific.

The charges were filed Sept. 27 at the federal court in Washington D.C and the Pacific Breeze Fishery company had owned the fishing vessel Pacific Breeze that regularly off loaded fish for the cannery in American Samoa, when the pollution violation acts occurred.

Court documents filed on Oct. 13 by the defendant’s attorney who stated the vessel is the only ship owned or operated by the defendant and it is presently on lay-up status in Busan, South Korea while the defendant makes arrangements to have it sold or scrapped.

“Defendant therefore is not presently engaged in any significant business operations,” according to court documents, which notes the defendant would not have representation during sentencing, yesterday, and the company’s general manager is a resident of Guam and unable to attend as well.

At yesterday’s plea hearing as well as sentencing, Pacific Breeze Fisheries admitted its engineers failed to document the illegal dumping of oily bilge water into the waters off American Samoa without the use of required pollution prevention equipment.

These discharges occurred on at least two occasions, in 2014 and 2015, before the vessel brought fish to a cannery in the port of Pago Pago, according to prosecutors.

Additionally, the defendant admitted that between October 2013 and July 2015, senior engineers regularly failed to accurately record the transfer and disposal of oil waste in the vessel’s Oil Record Book.

According to USDOJ, the U.S. Coast Guard relies on such records to determine whether vessels are illegally dumping oil at sea. As a result, tons of oil sludge, waste oil and oily bilge water that were produced by the vessel remain unaccounted for.

The defendant was also sentenced yesterday by US District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to a fine of $400,000 for each of the four counts — with the total fine of $1.6 million. Chutkan also order the defendant to make a community service payment of $400,000 to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for use in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS)

According to the plea agreement, the funds shall support the protection and preservation of natural resources located and adjacent to NMSAS, including the abatement, cleanup and remediation of pollution in the NMSAS; and restoration and injured resources, particularly including coral reefs.

And although Pacific Breeze Fisheries does not currently manage any active fishing vessels, the company also agreed to implement an extensive environmental compliance plan in the event it resumes operations, according to the plea agreement.

Washington D.C. based attorneys representing the defendant didn’t immediately response to Samoa News’ email request for comments.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury handed down in August a five-count indictment against former chief engineer for the fishing vessel, Jeon Seon Han, who was accused of among other things ordering the discharge of oil into waters of American Samoa, and lying about it to investigators with the US Coast Guard.

On Tuesday this week, Han pled guilty at the federal court in Honolulu to one count of obstruction of justice, a crime punishable by not more than five years in jail, a fine of up to $25,000, three years of supervised release and restitution to be determined by the court, according to the plea agreement between the defendant and USDOJ.

In exchange for the guilty plea — in which he admitted to among other things, obstructing and impeding a US Coast Guard investigation in American Samoa in 2015 — the court dismissed the other counts in the indictment.

According to court records, the defendant is not in custody and he’ll be sentenced in February next year.