HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A South Korean shipping company was fined nearly $1 million after it dumped polluted water into the ocean and then tried to cover it up.
Doorae Shipping Co. is the owner of the oil tanker B. Sky, which was several hundred miles off the coast of Hawaii in February when it began discharging its oily bilge water into the ocean.
On Tuesday, the company was fined $950,000 after it pleaded guilty to failing to accurately record the dumping and for making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard.
"I think it's important that we send a message in cases like this because they don't come up often. We don't catch them often," said Ken Sorenson, assistant U.S. Attorney.
"So obviously, when you do catch one and you catch them cold like we did here, you want the sanction to be painful and this indeed was a painful sanction."
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, $200,000 of the fine will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used to protect Hawaii's coral reefs.
In addition to the fines, Doorae also will be required to take part in a court-monitored environmental compliance program, which could cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Environmentalist said the stiff penalties are needed because shipping companies are rarely caught in the act of polluting in international waters."
"It really is anything goes out there. It's the wild west. And the fact that the federal government is stepping up to enforce on this kind of violation is huge," said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.
"The stories we've heard about what's dumped out in the ocean in deep waters is really kind of disturbing -- shipping containers, waste water of all kinds -- and there's nothing to rely on except the self-reporting of these ships."
Oil tankers like the B. Sky produce a lot of oil from their machinery, which drips down into the bilge area where it mixes with seawater. By law, ships are supposed to record the amount of bilge water they produce and are only allowed to discharge the bilge water if the oil content is no more than 15 parts per million.
According to Sorenson, the ship's chief engineer circumvented the reporting requirement by building a bypass system that pumped the oily fluid directly into the ocean. The engineer, Jeung Mun, also pleaded guilty to a reporting violation.
In his plea deal, Mun admitted that the bypass system discharged about 500 gallons but prosecutors said the bypass system operated for several days. "That's the real questions, how much was (discharged)," Sorenson said. "In this case, we couldn't really tell how much."