San Diego-based JM Fisheries LLC, G.S. Fisheries Inc., the companies’ manager, and the chief engineer of the commercial fishing vessel Capt. Vincent Gann have agreed to pay a total of $725,000 in civil penalties to settle federal Clean Water Act claims related to oil pollution violations on the vessel. The companies and their manager have also agreed to perform corrective measures to prevent future Clean Water Act violations.
Working with the Coast Guard, the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii against JM Fisheries LLC, G.S. Fisheries Inc., James Sousa, and Edward DaCosta, along with a proposed consent decree resolving the allegations in the complaint against the companies and manager and a stipulated settlement agreement resolving the allegations against the chief engineer. The United States alleges in the complaint that, on April 20, 2018, the defendants discharged oil and oily mixtures from the fishing vessel Capt. Vincent Gann’s engine room bilge into Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa, while performing repairs on the vessel. The Coast Guard responded to the discharge in the harbor and oversaw the cleanup efforts. The complaint further alleges a host of violations of pollution control regulations, including a failure to properly maintain and operate the vessel’s onboard oily water treatment system and a non-approved bypass modification to the system. JM Fisheries LLC subsequently reimbursed the Coast Guard for the cleanup work.
“The laws that these polluters violated protect vital marine resources for the good of the American people,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice commends the Coast Guard for the investigation that revealed these violations and allowed these polluters to be held accountable.”
“Being a steward to our environment is everyone’s responsibility,” said Captain Arex Avanni, Commander, Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and Captain of the Port of Coast Guard District 14. “We take any violation, no matter the size, extremely seriously and will use all resources available to prevent, investigate and hold violators responsible. With the assistance of partners and our maritime community, we can ensure our environment will be well protected.”
To resolve the claims in the complaint, the consent decree requires the companies and company manager James Sousa to perform corrective measures on all vessels they own or operate. These measures include:
(1) hiring an independent maritime consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of each vessel’s oil handling practices and operations,
(2) providing crewmembers with training on proper operation and maintenance of the oily water separator system and on the required recordkeeping associated with the system,
(3) documenting transfers of oil within and to each vessel, and
(4) submitting compliance reports to the Coast Guard and Department of Justice.
Additionally, the consent decree requires them to pay a joint civil penalty of $720,000. The stipulated settlement agreement requires the Capt. Vincent Gann’s chief engineer, Edward DaCosta, to pay a civil penalty of $5,000 to resolve the claims alleged against him in the complaint. This penalty amount is based on a demonstrated limited ability to pay a higher penalty.
Section 311(b) of the Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge oil or hazardous substances into or upon the waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the environment or public health. Under the Act, the Coast Guard also has promulgated spill prevention and pollution control regulations for vessels and other facilities. Overboard discharges of oily mixtures, whether by directly pumping out oily bilge water that has not been properly treated, or by attempting to pump only the portion of the oily bilge water beneath a floating oil layer in the bilge (so-called “decanting”), has long been unlawful under federal law. Eliminating oil discharges into the ocean helps protect people, birds, fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and other natural resources.
The penalty paid for this discharge and other violations will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Funds Center. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is used to pay for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.