The US government takes a very aggressive approach to investigating and prosecuting MARPOL violations and its related US laws. IMC provides auditing services for owners/operators who wish to participate in a voluntary Environmental Compliance Program.
Owners, operators, and crews of vessels convicted in US courts for violating US environmental laws, typically for failing to make accurate entries in the various records relating to illegally discharging oily water overboard, face very heavy criminal and monetary penalties, which include incarceration of offenders in jail and multi-million dollar fines. Crewmembers of a vessel suspected of violating MARPOL laws are often detained ashore for months at the expense of the vessel owners while an investigation is performed. The vessel can also be detained and equipment/documentation removed for forensic examination and evidentiary purposes, further delaying the vessel. The owners and operators are generally required to put up a substantial surety bond prior to the vessel being allowed to sail. Separate legal representation of the company and each individual crewmember involved as either a suspect or witness is necessary, and is paid for by the owner and operators. The financial costs and commercial implications can be staggering.
Vessel owners and operators who plead guilty or are found guilty are typically required to comply with an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP). Vessels they own and/or manage are monitored by court-appointed monitors and auditors. The cost of the monitoring, which typically lasts 3-5 years, is paid for by the vessel owners and operators.
In order to minimize the risk of vessels in their fleet being detained, and becoming the target of a focused USCG/DOJ investigation, progressive vessel owners and managers participate in a voluntary environmental compliance program. This entails engaging highly experienced and trained independent auditors who would periodically ride vessels in their fleet between selected ports in order to perform an in-depth inspection of the vessel’s equipment for processing oily waste with the vessel in operation, interview and audit relevant crew members to ensure they are operating the equipment properly, verify the crewmembers have the necessary understanding of the equipment and MARPOL requirements and company policies, audit the vessel’s record keeping to ensure it meets US and internationally recognized standards, and other such tasks The audit team can also review the company’s own environmental compliance policies and procedures, as well as vessel procedures and check lists, provide recommendations for improvements, help identify potential weaknesses such as a “disconnect” between shore and ship management, cultural differences, motivation issues, and the like.
Independent Maritime Consulting (IMC) has a very strong team of well qualified marine consultants, with extensive seagoing experience as chief engineers or masters on ocean going vessels. This practical experience, coupled with training and experience as ISO 14001 lead auditors who have years of experience conducting ECP audits, enables us to assist vessel owners and operators maintain an effective voluntary Environmental Compliance Program. The management of this service is in the trusted hands of a small team of professionals who have worked within the Unites States Coast Guard (USCG) in senior level positions for many decades. Their experience in the enforcement and interpretation of the MARPOL regulations is invaluable to our clients and the IMC auditing team.
Participation in a voluntary Environmental Compliance Program, administered by an independent consulting firm who has credibility with the USCG and DOJ, is likely to significantly reduce the risk of a violation. In the event, despite all of these efforts, a MARPOL violation does occur, representatives of the vessel owners and operators will be well placed to argue that civil and criminal penalties should be waived or substantially reduced.