Russian citizen and ship’s chief engineer pleads guilty to dumping oily waste in US waters; Retaliation against whistleblowers and cover-up

Kirill Kompaniets, a Russian citizen and chief engineer of a Marshall Islands-registered commercial bulk carrier, pleaded guilty to dumping waste in US waters and then attempting to cover up the wrongdoing. A crew member initially reported the illegal activity to the US Coast Guard via social media.

Kompaniets “was charged with illegal discharge in violation of the Ship Pollution Prevention Act,” or APPS. APPS has implemented Annex VI of the MARPOL Treaty or the “Principal International Treaty on Requirements for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships”. MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, originates from the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations, and “is the main international agreement covering all types of pollution from ships,” according to the Environmental website Protection Agency.

The U.S. passed APPS in 1980, and the law applies to both U.S. merchant ships and “non-US merchant ships operating in U.S. waters or ports in U.S. jurisdiction,” according to the National Whistleblower Center (NWC). According to NWC “[t]The US is the No. 1 enforcer of MARPOL in the world due to the whistleblower provisions contained in APPS.” Additionally, “[w]Histleblowers do not have to be US citizens to receive a reward,” explains NWC.

Court filings from the Kompaniets case say a valve on the ship ruptured while trying to “fix an issue with clean ballast water discharge,” reports the May 18 Department of Justice (DOJ) news release. According to the press release “[l]On the night of March 13-14, 2021, after the leak was controlled, Kompaniets and a junior engineer intentionally drained the oil-contaminated water in the bilges overboard an anchorage near the Southwest Passage off the coast of Louisiana”. The press release states: “[t]The pollution prevention equipment required for the ship – an oil-water separator and an oil content monitor – were not used and the discharge was not recorded in the Oil Record Book, a required ship’s log.”

In addition to the illegal disposal, “Kompaniets was also charged with obstruction of justice based on various efforts to cover up the illegal disposal.” He admitted six “obstructions of law” in “a joint statement of fact in court with his guilty plea.” These acts included “false disclosures to the Coast Guard,” “destruction of computer alert printouts for the period of illegal offloading” requested by the Coast Guard, and “holding meetings with junior crew members and instructing them to make false disclosures to the Coast Guard Coast Guard.” In particular, one of the acts Kompaniets admitted is “the preparation of a retaliation document accusing the whistleblower of poor performance as part of an effort to discredit him.”

“The intentional pollution of U.S. waters and the intentional attempt to cover up the crime are extremely serious crimes that will not be tolerated,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Division of Environment and Natural Resources said in the release. “Charges like these should send a clear message to those who are breaking the law and endangering our precious natural resources.”

The press release states that the investigation is still ongoing.

Read the press release here.

Read more environmental whistleblower news on WNN.

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