PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The captain and owners of the World Prodigy oil tanker pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating federal pollution laws and agreed to pay more than $1 million for a 300,000-gallon spill off Newport.
Under an agreement with the U.S. attorney, the Ballard Shipping Co. of New York agreed to pay $1 million for the June 23 spill. Half of the money would go to two Rhode Island environmental trust funds, the other half to the U S. Treasury.
The captain of the Greek-registered tanker, Iakovos Georgudis, 44, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine. The U.S. attorney said he decided against seeking a prison term or probation for Georgudis because there was no 'gross negligence' or criminal intent.
U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres conditionally accepted the pleas pending his review of the case. He set sentencing for Sept. 15.
The World Prodigy spilled an estimated 297,000 gallons of home heating oil when it slammed into a reef about a mile off the coast of Newport at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. The accident forced the closure of beaches and shellfishing beds throughout the state, but much of the light oil burned off under the sun and the spill caused relatively little environmental damage.
Georgudis admitted to two violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Ballard Shipping was charged with one violation.
Each violation carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and fines of twice the amount of the cleanup costs. The Coast Guard estimates it has cost nearly $2 million to clean up the oil.
Georgudis' lawyer, Peter DiBiasi, said he is pleased with the agreement and is optimistic that a similar agreement will be arranged for other charges against the captain filed by the state. 'It's been hell for the captain,' DiBiasi said. 'He's simply a human being.'
U.S. Attorney Lincoln Almond said a prison term for the captain was not necesary.
'I think it was a fair settlement in light of the fact that we're talking about simple negligence,' Almond said. 'I also think Ballard Shipping has been very cooperative. They worked closely with the Coast Guard in the cleanup effort and they negotiated with us over a period of days to come up with this agreement.'
Georgudis is free on $50,000 bail and must remain in Rhode Island, Massachusetts or New York.
He still faces state charges of discharging a pollutant and entering the bay without a local pilot aboard. The first charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in prison and the second charge carries one year in prison. Each carries a fine of up to $10,000.