$1.5M fine for polluting sea

The case that led to the $1.5 million fine and guilty verdict against a Japanese fishing company was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Guam, with assistance from the Coast Guard Investigative Service. This undated Coast Guard photo is courtesy of the Department of Defense

A Japanese fishing company, Fukuichi Gyogyo Kabushiki Kaisha was convicted and sentenced today in the District of Guam for dumping waste oil into the ocean and engaging in a coverup of the environmental crime. 

The charges stemmed from discharges of waste oil and oily bilge water from the F/V Fukuichi Maru No. 112 into international waters and the attempt to cover up those discharges when the vessel was inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard in Apra Harbor, Guam. 

Fukuichi pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, and two counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

The company was ordered to pay a $1.5 million criminal fine and serve a five-year term of probation, during which vessels owned and/or operated by the company will be banned from entering the Exclusive Economic Zone, Territorial Sea, or a port or terminal belonging to the United States without prior approval. 

“Fukuichi’s fishing vessel plied the waters of the Western Pacific for decades in disregard of basic environmental precautions. It would have continued to do so but for the United States asserting jurisdiction in this criminal prosecution. Our waters and reefs are worthy of protection through punitive enforcement action. We will target any companies or persons who engage in similar unlawful conduct,” U.S. Attorney Shawn N. Anderson stated in a press release.

The vessel entered Guam's Apra Harbor on April 1, 2019, for repairs to its cargo refrigeration system. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel and discovered 15 pollution and safety deficiencies and detained the vessel.

The inspectors examined the vessel’s Oil Record Book, which, oddly, was a single volume that spanned 30 years. The inspectors discovered two hundred and thirty-three incorrect or false entries on the record.

Later during the inspection, the inspector discovered that the ship's chief engineer obstructed their proceeding by erasing 42 of the fraudulent or incorrect entries and replacing them with new information, the Justice Department stated.

“I want to highlight the diligent work of the marine investigators who first identified these issues and worked closely with the vessel crew and the Department of Justice for several months to bring it to a conclusion," said Capt. Christopher Chase, Captain of the Port Coast Guard Sector Guam. 

“This exceptional collaborative effort continues to deter maritime organizations from these types of devastating illegal practices that threaten to destroy our natural living marine resources as well as level the playing field for the many responsible companies who obey the laws and regulations created to protect these finite resources,” said Coast Guard Special Agent-in-Charge Kelly Hoyle.

The case was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Guam, with assistance from the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The prosecution was handled by Senior Trial Attorney Kenneth E. Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant United States Attorneys Mikel Schwab and Marivic David of the District of Guam