Masters of foreign carriers have lost a couple of their worry lines following a "not guilty" verdict in Houston for the master of the Georgios M.
He was nabbed under the "magic pipe" law, but the jury disbelieved the crewmembers who claimed to have seen the master use the pipe. They heard that crewmen misled the government, after being promised grants of immunity, by claiming that the master had bypassed the oily water separator. The master was held for a year in the US and had not seen his daughter during that time.
What has not been publicized widely enough is that whistleblowers in these cases are paid a percentage of any fine levied, which is a very attractive inducement for a seafarer earning just a few dollars a day.
And what gets the goat of many in the industry is that far too little attention is paid to a practice that has been shown in more than one case to be abused. Indeed, most of the focus seems to be on arcane legal squabbling over Clean Truck programs and environmental lawsuits.
Allegations are rife among international carriers that "barrack room lawyers" are on hand, for a fee, in Asian ports to tell crews how to fake magic pipes and how to convince the Coast Guard. In most cases, owners and operators take the easy way out by admitting guilt from the start to avoid having to travel to the US and spend huge sums on a defense that is likely to fail.
Industry lobby groups are being taken to task for not doing more to get the law changed. One suggestion is that crewmembers should themselves face prosecution if a charge is thrown out, but that breaks too many legal principles to become reality.
Fleet Management of Hong Kong knows all about oil pollution regulations in the US, in the wake of the Cosco Busan incident. Now it has been charged in Texas with failing to maintain an accurate oil record book, making false statements to the US Coast Guard and obstruction, involving the Lowlands Sumida.
The Coast Guard says a "routine inspection" was made of the ship, to which most people would greet with a guffaw of derision, as the name Fleet Management on a manifest is the same as waving a big red flag. The company knows that it is a target for inspection and it almost beggars belief that senior officers would still use a magic pipe.
BP can look forward to the same treatment in the years to come.
(Photo by gcaptain.com)