$1.5M fine for polluting sea

COAST GUARD: The case that led to the $1.5 million fine and guilty verdict against the Japanese company that owns the fishing vessel Fukuichi Maru No. 112 was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam, with assistance from the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Department of Defense photo

A Japanese fishing company was convicted and sentenced Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Guam of dumping waste oil into the sea and engaging in a cover-up of the environmental crime.

The charges stemmed from discharges of waste oil 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.

The vessel's owner, Fukuichi Gyogyo Kabushiki Kaisha, 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 the probation, 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,” U.S. Attorney Shawn N. Anderson stated in a news release.

“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,” Anderson added. “We will target any companies or persons who engage in similar unlawful conduct.”

The vessel entered Apra Harbor on April 1 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 Department of Justice stated.

The inspectors examined the vessel’s oil record book, which had a single volume that spanned 30 years. The inspectors discovered 253 incorrect or false entries on the record, the Justice Department stated.

An inspector discovered that the ship's chief engineer obstructed the investigation 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, of Coast Guard Sector Guam. 

The case was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam, with assistance from the Coast Guard Investigative Service.

“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 prosecution was handled by senior trial attorney Kenneth E. Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department and Guam-based federal prosecutors Mikel Schwab and Marivic David.