Workers rewarded for cooperation in oil dump case

AP News
Posted: May 11, 2011 11:36 AM
Workers rewarded for cooperation in oil dump case

Three crew members of a Greek shipping company are receiving more than $1 million for cooperating with federal authorities in an investigation that led to the company's conviction for repeatedly dumping waste oil in the ocean and lying about it.

Ionia Management was fined $4.9 million in 2007. The company was convicted on 13 counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, three counts of falsifying records in a federal investigation, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of conspiracy.

A federal judge in New Haven last month awarded $550,000 to Alexander Gueverra and $350,000 each to Ricky Lalu and Dario Calubag.

Prosecutors supported the awards, saying the three provided crucial evidence and that ship pollution is a common problem but difficult to prosecute. Cooperating employees may lose job prospects in the industry by being "blackballed" as a result of their cooperation with the government, prosecutors said.

"Because the pollution may take place in the middle of the ocean and usually at night, the only people likely to know about the conduct itself and about the falsification of ship records used in port are the employees in the engine room," prosecutors wrote in court papers. "A meaningful monetary award rewards crew members for taking that risk and provides an incentive for fellow crew members to alert inspectors and investigators of similar conduct on other ships."

Gueverra, an electrician, called the U.S. Coast Guard to report the discharges, leading to the investigation, prosecutors said. Gueverra acknowledged one of his motives in calling the Coast Guard was that he had read a magazine article describing how crew members on other ships received rewards for reporting such activity, prosecutors said.

His attorney, Jonathan Einhorn, said he continued to cooperate even after he believed he would not receive a reward.

"This is just a nice surprise," Einhorn said.

Lalu, an oiler, provided investigators with cell phone photos of a bypass hose used in the discharges. Calubag, an engineer, was the only witness to testify without immunity.

"I'm sure it's going to be a life changing experience for him," said Lalu's attorney, Raymond Trebisacci, noting his client lives in the Philippines where the cost of living is low.

Prosecutors said Ionia dumped waste oil several times between January 2006 and March 2007. The crew of its ship Kriton routinely dumped sludge and bilge water into the sea without recording the discharges, prosecutors said. The company was accused of presenting false discharge records to the Coast Guard at ports in Connecticut, Florida, New York and the Virgin Islands.

In addition to the fine, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton appointed a Special Master to oversee the company's record keeping and hold hearings every six months to review Ionia's records. The judge also ruled that no ships owned by Ionia Management will be permitted into U.S. ports without first installing special monitoring equipment.

The company has said it cooperated with the investigation, taken significant measures to improve its supervision of staff and suffered significant costs and business disruptions as a result of the case. Senior company officials were not aware of and would not condone intentional oil discharges into the sea, the company said.