LOS ANGELES, April 4 -- A Taiwanese shipping company was ordered to pay $25 million for systematically dumping untreated oil and sludge off the coasts of five states for more than three years, the largest criminal fine ever imposed for deliberately pouring oil into the ocean.
In a plea agreement, Evergreen International S.A. pleaded guilty to 24 federal charges Monday, admitting it routinely ignored U.S. and international laws that prohibit dumping untreated oil and instructed crew members to falsify logs and destroy a bypass pipe before inspectors could board the vessel. The case was prosecuted simultaneously by U.S. attorneys in Los Angeles, Seattle, Newark, Charleston, S.C., and Portland, Ore.
"Cheating and deceiving is no way to conduct business, and the actions of Evergreen undermined the hard work of every honest operator that complies with these laws every day," said Rear Adm. Thomas H. Gilmour of the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard began investigating Evergreen vessels when 500 gallons of oil were dumped into the Columbia River near Kalama, Wash., on March 4, 2001, leaving a 35-mile oil slick. Through oil samples and vessel traffic reports, the illegal discharge was traced to an Evergreen container ship.
Two months later, a bypass pipe designed to illegally discharge waste oil into the sea was discovered aboard another Evergreen vessel.
After a review of Evergreen's U.S.-based fleet, Coast Guard inspectors discovered seven ships were using bypass pipes and several others had been freshly painted or equipment had been altered.
Because most of the illegal activity took place in open waters there is no way to know the amount of oil illegally dumped, but U.S. Attorney Debra Yang estimated it could reach the tens of thousands of metric tons.