U.S. court fines Portuguese shipping company $1.5m in magic pipe case

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

Portuguese shipping company Portline Bulk International has pleaded guilty in a federal court in Charleston, South Carolina, to one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one count of Obstruction related to use of a so-called “magic pipe” onboard one of its ships calling in the United States.

According to Justice Department press release, from April 2017 to August 2018, senior members of the engineering team onboard the Achilleus, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier managed by Portline, oversaw and participated in the bypass of the ship’s Oil Water Separator utilizing a yellow plastic hose, which is commonly referred in the industry as a magic pipe. The ship’s Chief Engineer then made a series of fake entries and key omissions in the Oil Record Book in order to conceal the illegal overboard discharges of oily bilge water. On August 14, 2018, the false Oil Record Book was presented to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) during an inspection in the Port of Charleston.

According to court documents, Portline has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $1.5 million when the company is sentenced at a future date. The company would also be placed on organizational probation for four years, which includes an environmental compliance plan.

“The world’s oceans are not a dumping ground for criminals who seek to evade our nation’s environmental laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Department’s commitment to protecting coastal communities through rigorous enforcement of the rule of law.

Last week, the ship’s former Chief Engineer Anatoli Zotsenko and Second Engineer Valerii Pastushenko, who had previously pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, were sentenced to fines totaling $12,500 and three years probation, preventing them from entering ports and anchorages of the United States.

The incident is latest in a long list of magic pipe cases that have being successfully prosecuted in the United States involving foreign-flagged ships.