June 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice said a company based in Egypt and another in Singapore pleaded guilty and will pay a $1.9 million fine for illegally dumping oil-contaminated bilge water and garbage in the ocean.
The companies pleaded guilty to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and to obstruction of justice for attempting to cover up the illegal dumping from one of their ships into the Gulf of Mexico.
"Intentional acts of pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas wetlands will not be tolerated, and violators such as defendants, Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, will be held responsible for their conduct," Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas said in a statement on Tuesday. "Our citizens depend on clean water for their recreation and their livelihood. This kind of irresponsible conduct threatens both."
The financial penalty will be used for marine and coastal restoration efforts at three National Wildlife Refuges located on the Gulf of Mexico in east Texas.
The Egyptian and the Singaporean companies own and operate the 57,920-ton, 809-foot long oil tank ship named the M/T ETC MENA. The Justice Department said it began an investigation in April 2016 after a crew member on the ship informed the U.S. Coast Guard that the ship illegally dumped waste overboard into the ocean the month before. The crew member provided a statement, photographs and video of the incident.
"Large ships like the M/T ETC MENA generate oil-contaminated bilge waste when water mixes in the bottom or bilges of the ship with oil that has leaked from the ship's engines and other areas. This waste must be processed to separate the water from the oil and other wastes by using pollution prevention equipment ... before being discharged into the sea," the Justice Department said.
"These large ships also generate garbage, including ash from the incinerators, steel, and other non-organic wastes, which are collected in plastic bags and stored onboard until they can be disposed of properly at shore-side facilities," the Justice Department added.
The companies, which will also be placed on four-year probation, admitted crew members discharged the oil without first passing it through pollution prevention equipment. The crew members also were instructed to throw bags filled with metal and incinerator ash into the ocean, the Justice Department said.
The companies also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for presenting false documents to the Coast Guard during an inspection in Port Arthur, Texas.