Greek ship operator, engineers charged for environmental crime in U.S.

Four Nigerians face trial for £10m ‘fraud’ in UK
Illustrative picture. PHOTO: SHIPS & PORTS archive

The United States has charged a Greek cargo ship operator and two of its chief engineers with environmental crimes for allegedly failing to record the illegal dumping of oily waste into international waters and then obstructing justice by ordering the ship’s crew to lie about it.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles last week returned the five-count federal indictment against Capital Ship Management Corporation, a ship management company based in Piraeus, Greece, and Ioan Luca and Ionel Surla, both from Romania, alleging conspiracy to fail to maintain an accurate oil record book and to defraud the United States, failure to maintain an accurate oil record book, falsification of records in a matter of federal administration, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Luca and Surla both previously served as chief engineer on board the CMA CGM Amazon, a Liberian-flagged containership that is managed by Capital Ship Management Corp.

The indictment alleges that Luca and Surla had previously ordered crew members of the Amazon to use a portable pump and flexible hoses in the ship’s engine room to transfer oil-contaminated bilge water to a tank designed to hold clean water, then dispose of the water directly overboard into international waters, avoiding use of the oily water separator.

Luca and Surla then failed to record the discharges in the ship’s oil record book, a document required by federal law. The Amazon’s ports of call included various ports in Asia, Egypt, and Canada, as well as the Port of Los Angeles, according to the indictment. While at the Port of Los Angeles on January 11th, the ship presented the false oil record book to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors during an inspection, the indictment alleges.

Capital Ship Management and Luca also have been charged with obstruction of justice and witness tampering for allegedly instructing crew members to lie to the Coast Guard about events that occurred on the ship while at sea. In conducting the investigation, Coast Guard personnel relied on the statements of the ship’s crew as well as documents, the indictment states.

If convicted of all charges, Luca faces a statutory maximum sentence of 61 years in federal prison while Surla faces a statutory maximum sentence of 11 years in federal prison. Capital Ship Management and Luca, who was arrested last month and is free on bond, were previously named in a criminal complaint. Surla is currently believed to be in Romania.

In a related case, Marian Gavriluta-Strat, a Romanian national and the Amazon’s second engineer, has agreed to plead guilty to charges related to his failure and causing the failure to maintain an accurate oil record book. Gavriluta-Strat is scheduled to enter a guilty plea to the charges on June 19. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of six years in federal prison.