Episode 80 Transcript: ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES AT SEA
CLARICE: Hello, everybody. And welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.
MARISA: Hi, everyone. I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney here in Rhode Island.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m coming in with questions, comments, topics, and trying to get out of Mercury in the lemonade.
MARISA: Yeah. It’s still happening.
CLARICE: It’s still happening.
MARISA: Everyone that I’m talking to is saying how arduous the past two weeks have been in terms of communication and everyone’s mail is kind of messed up. They aren’t receiving mail appropriately. Things are lost in the mail. I’ve experienced it. My office has experienced it, so it’s a real thing.
CLARICE: Oh, yes. I love that you said that communication is an issue. I was at a funeral yesterday and it was —
MARISA: I was going to make a really poor joke just then and I’m glad that I refrained.
CLARICE: Oh, that’s fine. Actually, it’s a funny story about the funeral because even though it was a crowded room, it was a bunch of people celebrating this beautiful life that we no longer have with us. It was myself and a small group of friends and one person would say something and the other person would hear a different word.
MARISA: Like the telephone game.
CLARICE: Absolutely. And it just devolved into madness. Like one person would say, oh, did you see Bob. And somebody else would say, who got robbed. And it went on and on for an absurd amount of time, so, you know, maybe that was Mercury’s gift. Communication is down but we’re enjoying it.
MARISA: I’m ready for that to be over. There’s a lunar eclipse tonight. I hope some folks get relief and I am not astrologically inclined at all.
CLARICE: Not even a little.
MARISA: I’m really but, but there is definitely something to the universe having an external impact on our lives.
CLARICE: I don’t believe in any of it, but I am scapegoat inclined, so if this is the scapegoat I need I’m going to take it.
MARISA: We’re going with it.
CLARICE: So you found this week’s topic.
MARISA: I did. And strangely we did not plan this, but the communication element is kind of a nice segue into our topic today. I, as an environmental attorney, get a lot of e-mails and various communications about what’s happening within the environmental industry including science-based reports, including maritime reports that you wouldn’t at first glance think that maritime incidents have an environmental element necessarily. I think that’s because when you think about maritime law you think about ships and vessels and international flags of convenience and elements related more to navigation and safety than environmental.
However, as really with all activity on the planet pretty much everything has an environmental law or environmental science aspect to it. The situation that I wanted to talk about today was forwarded to me in a newsletter style e-mail from a source called Marine Insight and they have an entire segment on their website and in their communications called shipping news. So, again, shipping news is not automatically in my mind related to environmental law.
[0:04:06] CLARICE: No. And probably something I might skip over when I skim the e-mail, but I’m happy that you didn’t skip over this. This one’s an interesting one.
MARISA: It is. And when I forwarded it to you you replied, this looks like drama —
MARISA: — which I appreciate because, let’s face it, environmental law can be dry and depressing as hell. This is also a depressing story, but there is some drama associated with it, so let’s jump right into the facts, shall we. The article that I’m talking about, again, located in Marine Insight, is about a Greek company that owned and operated a tanker called the — I’m not going to say this right probably — the Galissas. Close, right? I’ll go with it.
CLARICE: That’s what I came up with last night. I think so.
MARISA: The Galissas is a tanker that in February 2022, so over a year ago, was carrying diesel oil from Rotterdam which is in the Netherlands to Providence, Rhode Island. The tanker — I’m sure — I’ve not seen it personally, but I’m sure there are many tankers just like it that are entering the Port of Providence often to deliver various products.
So I guess on the one hand it’s good that news stories like this don’t come out a lot because there is so much activity in the Port of Providence you can imagine that environmental violations could occur all the time. In this case an environmental violation did occur because the vessel’s captain pled guilty recently to failing to report a hazardous condition in the vessel’s cargo tanks to the United States Coast Guard prior to the tanker entering Rhode Island. Okay. That sounds innocuous, right, a hazardous condition.
CLARICE: Suspicious but, you know, okay.
MARISA: Well, the, quote, unquote, hazardous condition was that the vessel knowingly discharged untreated oily bilge water directly from the tanker into Rhode Island waters and international waters during its transatlantic voyage from the Netherlands to Rhode Island. What do we think about that?
[0:07:18] CLARICE: My instant thought was what happens to our podcast when we have to put the explicit rating in the corner.
MARISA: I think we get more followers.
CLARICE: Just WTF. Like what are you doing? What are you doing? Why? What? Couldn’t you — no. No. In the course of your job, it’s not — what was the reason? If anybody listens or if anybody watches Bravo —
MARISA: Oh, I do.
CLARICE: — I think there is like a Housewives thing of like, what was the reason. I don’t watch the Housewives, but I think that’s a quote from it. And I don’t get it. I don’t get what the point of it was. I don’t get what the benefit of it was. It’s not like the ship was sinking and it was an accident of the ship sunk and the oil leaked. It wasn’t like there was a hole in the boat and the oil came out. Knowingly discharging the oil, what was the reason?
MARISA: Yeah. The knowingly element really gets me and they pled guilty.
CLARICE: Yeah. What are you going to do at that point?
MARISA: I don’t know. Most people don’t admit when they’ve done something egregious like this in my experience.
CLARICE: Well, but then let’s get into the drama part of it —
CLARICE: — because the article goes in further. And I think this is the part where I’m going to rely on you to kind of help organize some of the facts of what happened.
CLARICE: So there was a faulty inert gas generator and from my understanding the company knew that this gas generator was faulty before they left the Netherlands and knew that that was needed to be repaired in order to set sail and said, nah, we’re going to set sail anyway and we’ll just order a piece that will be shipped to the States and we’ll fix it at some other point when we touch port in the States.
MARISA: Did the article say anything about how the replacement part was going to be delivered to the Galissas? Was there going to be a drone from Amazon that came in and dropped the spare part down onto the vessel kind of like The Hunger Games? Remember in The Hunger Games when Katniss is in the tree and then the little thing comes, boop, boop.
[0:10:11] CLARICE: That would have been phenomenal.
MARISA: And it’s dropped, yeah.
CLARICE: From my understanding is I thought it would be in a port waiting for them. Like it will be delivered on, you know, like the 10th in this place and we’ll be in this place on the 10th.
MARISA: Okay. So here’s the problem with that. All joking aside, the Coast Guard has a statutory and jurisdictional responsibility to board and inspect vessels when they’re coming into international and state waters. Topic for another day, the federal government can board any vessel at any time including American vessels and pleasure boats, too. The constitution does not apply in federal waters, so the Coast Guard can board you without reasonable suspicion and same goes for these international vessels.
So the issue with this spare part being in port is that when the Coast Guard is going to board you they first send a communication to the vessel saying, hey, we’re the Coast Guard, be prepared for boarding. And the vessel, at least for international matters in my understanding, is required to reply with formal communication that indicates any kind of issues with operations and the standard safety protocols that vessels are supposed to have in place.
And in this case the Galissas received the Coast Guard notification including the Coast Guard telling the Galissas, we’re going to board you, we need to know about all of your operations including this inert gas system. And the Galissas failed to disclose that the system was not operable. So the Coast Guard boarded them and discovered the issue.
CLARICE: And specifically failed to — and I’m pulling this right from the article — failed to report to the Coast Guard the hazardous condition about the inert gas system was inoperable while the tanks were not gas free. So whatever this gas gauge, regulator, system — clearly I spend a lot of time around boats — this thing is important to have while there is gas in the tank and there is gas in the tank and they do not have it and they are not telling the Coast Guard, so that’s issue number one.
[0:13:12] MARISA: Yeah.
CLARICE: And of course because I’m relating this now to TV drama there is a second layer of some sort of fake log books.
CLARICE: Did you not see that part in the article?
MARISA: A fake log book?
MARISA: Get out.
CLARICE: There was some sort of fake log. Operations manager directed —
MARISA: Oh, I see. Yeah.
CLARICE: — Porquez –I apologize. I mispronounced the captain’s name horribly — to create a log book showing oxygen levels during the transatlantic voyage. So we’re just going to make it up. We’re just going to make it up.
MARISA: Yeah. So the Coast Guard gets on the vessel. They find that this inert system is not operational even though, I guess, at that point the replacement part was installed on the vessel. The Coast Guard says, it’s still not working, you got to get out of here. So they actually make the vessel leave wherever it was tied up and leave the area. So I guess as part of the Coast Guard inspection, the crew of this Galissas and the chief engineer and the captain admit that throughout the transatlantic voyage oily bilge water was illegally dumped directly into the ocean without properly being processed through required pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. The crew admitted that these illegal discharges were also not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law, so. And we’ve got like six different violations going on here.
CLARICE: And I’m not sure — I don’t know if you know the answer to this, but do you know if there’s any relation between the two events?
MARISA: It sounds to me more like the inert gas system issue opened the door for the Coast Guard to look further into everything that the vessel was saying. And it sounds from this article like the crew just said, oh, you know, yeah, we also discharged some oily bilge water. And like they just — it sounds to me — and I’m speculating, but I read the article. It sounds like they just voluntarily admitted to everything and then pled guilty in federal court.
[0:16:00] CLARICE: Right. But what I’m wondering is does this gas issue in their — like is there a connection between the gas issue and then the oil discharge?
MARISA: I don’t think so. I don’t think so because it sounds —
CLARICE: So once again, what was the reason? Like what are you doing?
MARISA: It sounds like on three separate occasions — this is throughout the entire transatlantic voyage starting in November of 2021 through February 2022 — the crew members on the vessel were ordered to discharge approximately 9,544 gallons of oily bilge water from the vessel which is — for those of you that boat, any time there’s a discharge on a vessel there is usually also a bypass operation that has to be in place for that. It’s not like oily bilge water can just accidentally discharge. There is a safety protocol and a backup system in place to prevent that, so these guys are just assholes. Let’s be honest. That’s the reason.
MARISA: That’s the reason.
CLARICE: Yeah. And the article goes on to say that the sentencing hearing in this matter is scheduled for August 8th, but my understanding is that some folks have already been sentenced.
CLARICE: That’s what I thought. I thought somebody was already receiving probation.
MARISA: I think it was the captain. He’s on a four-year probation.
MARISA: Or maybe it’s the captain and the company itself they figured out and the rest of the sentencing is scheduled for August, but there’s a four-year probation period. Big whoop.
CLARICE: To be specific —
MARISA: And a relatively small penalty amount. It’s 1 million.
CLARICE: Yes. And to be specific, this probation isn’t preventing the captain from working. He’s not barred from his job. Part of the probation is he’s under additional scrutiny, so there’s going to be —
MARISA: What the hell does that mean?
CLARICE: Well, from reading this there’s going to be a closer environmental eye. Let me see. The Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resource Division’s Environmental Crime Section and assistant attorney are going to be watching the case closer and watching his actions to make sure he’s in compliance.
MARISA: That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. What, are they going to follow the guy around?
CLARICE: But what are you in probation from?
MARISA: Being an idiot.
CLARICE: But you’re not preventing —
MARISA: He’s being an idiot again. He’s violating his probation.
CLARICE: You’re not prohibited from doing anything. You’re still out there able to work and function. And, look, I’m not saying that we need to lock the guy up forever and ever and take away all of his liberties. We’re not being dramatic here.
[0:19:10] MARISA: He’s not American.
CLARICE: I don’t understand. I don’t understand what the result is. I don’t understand why they put this in the water.
MARISA: And full disclosure here, the case was being handled by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division as well as the assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Rhode Island, lieutenant commander from the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England. I know that the attorney general was also heavily involved in the prosecution of this case, so a lot of players. This was a big event.
CLARICE: And this is an interesting kind of follow-up. Knowing that this was over 9,000 gallons transatlantically dumped, how do we know where to clean it up?
MARISA: There is no cleanup. There’s no cleanup.
CLARICE: Oh, great. I’m so glad I asked.
MARISA: Yeah. There’s no cleanup associated with this. It occurred in November through February. That oily discharge bilge water and oil is —
CLARICE: That ship has sailed?
MARISA: — everywhere right now. Yeah. Good one.
CLARICE: Thank you. Oh, God. That hurts.
CLARICE: I also looked it up. I was wrong in saying that it was a Bravo reference. It’s Cardi B. Apparently there’s a clip of Cardi B.
MARISA: So similar, you know. So similar.
CLARICE: I don’t know. I’ll send it to you.
MARISA: Okay. .
CLARICE: She just shouts, what was the reason. And it’s — I’m with her.
CLARICE: Well, this is Environmentally Speaking. If you have any rage that you want to talk about or if you have any thoughts, comments, concerns, questions, I don’t have answers, but I do want to hear it. Reach out to us on the socials. We are at Desautel Law on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Our videos are up on YouTube. You can send us an e-mail at Help@DesautelESQ.com.
MARISA: Thanks, everybody.
CLARICE: And hopefully Mercury’s out of the microwave. We don’t know.