PS Dream oil tanker; Source: Prive Overseas Marine

Oil tanker captain facing fines and multi-year prison time in US over violation of ship pollution prevention

A guilty plea has been made in Louisiana, United States (U.S.), by a captain of a Panama-flagged motor tanker, who has been charged with violating international treaties regulating oil pollution from ships and obstruction of proceedings after deliberate oil dumping was done by its crew on their way to New Orleans.

PS Dream oil tanker; Source: Prive Overseas Marine

After two companies, Prive Shipping and Prive Shipping Denizcilik Ticaret, that operated the Panama-flagged PS Dream tanker pleaded guilty last month to environmental crimes, in the aftermath of deliberate oil dumping, the captain of the ship, Abdurrahman Korkmaz, a 37-year-oil Turkish national, followed suit on June 11, pleading guilty to a two-count information charging him with violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) and for obstructing proceedings.

Once the PS Dream tanker arrived in New Orleans on January 26, 2023, the U.S. Coast Guard carried out an inspection, including a review of the vessel’s oil record books. Based on documents and statements filed in court, Korkmaz ordered his crew to pump overboard from the residual oil tank which contained oily waste.

Furthermore, a portable pump placed inside the tank and connected to a long flexible hose was used to discharge directly into the ocean without any required pollution prevention equipment or monitoring. The waste oil, including sludge, which originated in the engine room, is said to have been improperly transferred into the residual oil tank on the ship’s deck by a prior crew.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Korkmaz has acknowledged in his plea that he presented the books to the Coast Guard knowing they omitted information about discharging oily waste to the ocean before arriving in the United States. The falsified logs were intended to conceal that beginning on January 11, the crew had dumped oil-contaminated waste overboard on the voyage to New Orleans and was not complying with international treaties regulating oil pollution from ships.

After the case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigations Division with assistance from U.S. Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, Richard A. Udell, Senior Litigation Counsel, and Ryan Connors, Senior Trial Attorney of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, and G. Dall Kammer and Christine M. Calogero, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District of Louisiana, started prosecuting the case.

Since senior managers at two related companies that operated the ship were aware that the oil-contaminated waste remained in the tank and were informed by Korkmaz that it had been dumped overboard, both companies pleaded guilty and are scheduled for sentencing on September 26. However, Korkmaz is slated to be sentenced before this, on September 10, by a federal district court judge, who will determine the sentence.

This oil tanker captain faces a maximum penalty of six years in prison, with a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gain or loss from the offense, for the APPS charge. Aside from the same type of fine, Korkmaz also faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the obstruction charge.