The Department of Justice has fined another polluter for intentionally discharging oil from its vessels, this time off the shores of Massachusetts!
Two New Bedford fishing companies, Challenge Fisheries and Quinn Fisheries, have agreed to pay $414,000 and perform compliance measures and fleet wide improvements.
The penalties were in response to a complaint filed by the US Coast Guard alleging that the companies released approximately 4,200 gallons of oil into the waters of New Bedford Harbor, when the fishing vessel Challenge sank on Aug. 16, 2017.
The Coast Guard complaint alleges the ship's owners had emptied diesel fuel into the harbor after returning from a fishing trip, but failed to turn off the bilge pump, which caused the ship to sink after a valve failed. At least 17 ducks were oiled and five died, the complaint noted.
Before the Challenge sank, according to the complaint, the defendants routinely “on a daily or near-daily basis” pumped oily mixtures out of the engine room bilge and into New Bedford Harbor and other U.S. waters.
The companies also violated the Clean Water Act by failing to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily bilge water onboard the vessel. The complaint alleges that the defendants discharged engine room bilge, which contains a mixture of fuel, lubricating oils, water, and other wastes, into the ocean and New Bedford Harbor rather than retain the waste onboard in order to extend the duration of their fishing trips while harvesting scallops at sea.
“Today’s action sends a clear message to the commercial fishing fleet that Clean Water Act compliance must be a non-negotiable part of operations," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood, for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We appreciate our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard for their diligent investigation and referral of these violations.”
“This enforcement action will help protect people and the environment in and around New Bedford Harbor from the effects of oil pollution, and other fishing vessel owners and operators should take note,” said Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
So often when we write about these crimes, we describe them as being far out at sea, and extremely difficult to enforce. This case in New Bedford Harbor goes to show that intentional oil pollution can happen close to home, right on top of Massachusetts' marine food sources and valuable ecosystems.
To learn more about the case, read the Justice Department’s press release regarding the settlement.