Prosecutors say chief engineers falsified an oil record book kept aboard the Balsa-62, a 9,000-gross-ton bulk cargo vessel registered under the flag of Panama. Federal and international law requires ships pass the sludge through filtering equipment aboard the vessel or burn it in the ship's incinerator.
Federal law also requires ships to record every disposal and to make those records available for the U.S. Coast Guard when the vessel is within U.S. waters, prosecutors said.
On Oct. 14, the Balsa-62's former chief engineers pleaded guilty to federal charges, admitting they rigged the ship to bypass pollution controls and discharged the sludge into the ocean.
From June 2007 to February 2008, Francisco Bagatela was the ship's chief engineer. He and other senior engineering officers and crew installed a "magic pipe" to bypass the pollution prevention equipment, according to a plea agreement Bagatela signed.
The pipe consisted of a length of plastic hose with flanges at either end and was used to transfer oily sludge and mixtures from a holding tank through a valve in the side of the ship and overboard.
The firm is facing a $1.75M fine and is submitting to fleetwide monitoring for three years.