Bernhard Schulte to Pay $1.75 Million Fine in Latest ‘Magic Pipe’ Pollution Case

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By Mike Schuler | February 11, 2020

The oil products tanker Topaz Express. Photo: MarineTraffic.com/Andrew Mackinnon

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement has been sentenced to pay a $1.75 million criminal fine after pleading guilty to a felony charge related to illegal discharges from one of its vessels.

The company was before Judge Derrick K. Watson of the District of Hawaii  on Monday to plead guilty to one count of maintaining a false and incomplete records, a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

According to evidence presented in court, on at least three ocassions between May and July 2019, crew members of the Bernhard Schulte-operated oil products tanker Topaz Express used a portable pump and hose, aka a “magic pipe”, to bypass the vessel’s pollution prevention equipment and dump bilge waste directly into the sea. The defendants then failed to record the improper discharges in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law. 

Additionally, during the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the vessel, the Chief Engineer destroyed paper sounding sheets and altered a copy of the vessel’s electronic sounding log, in an effort to conceal how much bilge waste had been discharged.

The tanker’s Chief Engineer and Second Engineer previously pled guilty to their role in the offenses.

In addition to the fine, Bernhard Schulte will also serve a 4-year term of probation and implement “a robust Environmental Compliance Plan” applying to all 38 vessels operated by the company that call on U.S. ports.

The $1.75 million fine is the largest ever imposed in the District of Hawaii for this type of offense.

“Prosecutions like this one are important because, by holding companies accountable for the harm they cause to the ocean’s ecosystem, we do our part to protect the planet and its finite resources.  In Hawaii, we are surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, and companies that intentionally damage the ocean’s ecosystem must be held accountable for their criminal conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price.  “My office will continue to bring to justice companies that illegally discharge bilge waste into the ocean and then attempt to conceal their misconduct.”

The guilty plea is the latest in a growing list of Department of Justice convictions related to the illegal discharges from ships and the effort to cover them up.

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