WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department
of Justice prosecuted a record number of cases involving shipping
companies illegally dumping in U.S. waters in 2016.
on gcaptain.com, the Department’s Environmental and Natural
Resources Division imposed more than $363 million in criminal
penalties and more than 30 years of imprisonment. Many times,
these cases involve a “magic pipe,” in which ship crews will leak
water contaminated by oil into open water.
According to Richard
Alonso, partner at Bracewell, a Washington-based firm that specializes in
environmental strategies, these types of cases have been going for at
least 10 years. “It’s amazing that this is still going on in
the shipping industry,” he told the Louisiana Record.
Alonso said the Justice Department has tried for years to convince the shipping
industry to change practices but has not made a lot of progress.
With the help of some of the ships’ crews, the department is able to
prosecute at least some of the cases.
“The way the Department of
Justice finds out about these cases, for the most part, is through
whistleblowers,” Alonso said.
The cases are usually prosecuted
using the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, which was created
in 1980 to prevent ships from discharging harmful substances,
including oil, into the water. They can also be fought using the
Clean Water and Oil Pollution Act such as in the case
of the BP oil spill.
Although most of these cases involve shipping
companies, the Justice Department did prosecute Princess Cruise Lines in 2016. Carnival Corp. pleaded guilty to seven
felony charges and was sentenced to pay $40 million in penalties.
This year, the department also completed a settlement with BP over the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The oil company settled
for $18.7 billion in July.
Alonso believes the spike in
prosecutions came from a push from the agency to wrap up cases during
the Obama administration before President Trump took office. He
does not, however, think the change of administration should effect
the department's prosecution of similar cases in the future.
change of administration shouldn’t change the way the Department of
Justice will prosecute,” Alonso said. “It's a really bad act, and
even this administration won’t try to change regulations.”
also had many other successes in 2016, including prosecuting
Volkswagen under the Clean Air Act, as
well as enforcing animal-welfare laws, promoting Indian-tribe
rights and had significant wildlife prosecutions.
In a news
release outlining the year’s success, assistant attorney general John C. Cruden said, “I am extremely proud and grateful to
have led the men and women of this division through a landmark year
in its long history of protecting, defending and preserving the
environment and natural resources of this great nation.”