The U.S. District Court issued a criminal fine of $3 million to Ionian Shipping, Lily Shipping and several principals after convicting them of crimes connected to using dirty fuel and doctoring records to hide it, while carrying petroleum products to and from St. Croix and around the Caribbean.
U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert issued a news release this week saying Ionian Shipping and Trading Corp., Lily Shipping Ltd., Stamatios Alekidis, Athanasios Pittas and Rey Espulgar have been convicted and sentenced for various pollution, record keeping and obstruction of justice crimes on the Motor Tanker Ocean Princess in St. Croix.
The ship was owned by Lily Shipping and operated by Ionian Shipping and Trading, which are both Greek companies.
The commercial manager of the vessel would authorize the ship’s master, Alekidis, to transfer petroleum cargo from the cargo tanks into the vessel’s fuel tanks, known as bunker tanks.
While vessels are operating within the U.S. Caribbean ECA, they must not use fuel that exceeds 0.10 percent sulfur by weight in order to help protect air quality. But 26 times in the year and a half between Jan. 3, 2017 and July 10, 2018, the Ocean Princess broke those laws by using cargo fuel as “bunker” or operating fuel.
According to Shappert, once Alekidis gave the word, chief officer Espulgar coordinated with chief engineer Pittas to make the transfers from the cargo tanks to the bunker tanks. Espulgar and Pittas then falsified the Oil Record Book in two places to hide transferring the fuel to bunker tanks. Pittas also created fictitious bunker delivery notes that claimed the fuel in the bunkers came from the same shore-side company in St. Martin, F.W.I.
U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the Ocean Princess on July 10, 2018 to conduct an inspection. During the inspection, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered that the vessel was using fuel with an excessive sulfur content. According to Shappert, Espulgar instructed some of the lower-ranking crew members to lie to the U.S. Coast Guard inspectors about where the fuel came from and to say the ship took on fuel in St. Martin, F.W.I., when, in fact, it did not.
“Protection of our unique environment and air quality are important priorities of federal law enforcement and prosecutors in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Shappert said in a statement.
“Ocean going vessels emit hazardous air pollutants or air toxics that are associated with adverse health effects impacting populations living near ports and coastlines,” said Tyler Amon, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “EPA, along with its law enforcement partners, are committed to ensuring the shipping industry continues to comply with laws designed to protect air quality.”
The two companies will each pay $1.5 million, be placed on four years of probation and implement an environmental compliance plan.
Alekidis, Pittas and Espulgar were sentenced to three years of probation and ordered not to return to the United States on a ship during that time. Espulgar was also fined $3,000.