U.S. SUES CNMI BROTHERS FOR 2004 OIL SPILL DAMAGES

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By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 26) – The U.S. government filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday against suspended Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Police Capt. Aniceto Ogumoro, suspended shooting range master Ambrosio Ogumoro and a company over an alleged fishing boat oil spill that caused over US$3.4 million in damages.

The American government, through the U.S. Department of Justice, asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands to hold the Ogumoro brothers and Gung Ho Inc. liable for violating the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The U.S. government demanded payment for pollution removal costs or damages, plus interest, costs, disbursements, and attorneys' fees.

R. Michael Underhill, attorney in charge for the Department of Justice's Torts Branch, Civil Division, West Coast Office, filed the complaint.

The Ogumoro brothers owned and operated a boat, F/V Mwaalil Saat. Gung Ho Inc. operated, managed and chartered the boat, according to the complaint.

Underhill stated in the lawsuit that in June 2004 F/V Mwaalil Saat discharged oil into navigable waters and adjoining shorelines of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, including the waters of Tanapag Harbor, Saipan. He referred to this incident as the OPA Spill, "OPA" referring to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

[PIR editor’s note: Tanapag Harbor is located on the northwest coast of Saipan island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.]

After the oil spill, the lawyer said, the defendants failed or refused to take actions to remedy the situation.

"As a result of the OPA Spill, the U.S.A., by and through various agencies and others acting on its behalf, responded to the OPA Spill and incurred removal costs and damages within the meaning of the Oil Pollution Act," he said.

The removal costs and damages sustained by the U.S. exceeds US$3,410,600, Underhill claimed.

The lawyer cited that pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act, "each responsible party for a vessel from which oil is discharged, or which poses the substantial threat of discharge, into or upon the navigable waters or adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone of the U.S., is strictly liable for all costs, damages, and or disbursements specified in the Act.Under the circumstances, the defendants are jointly liable to the U.S.A., without limitation, for all the costs, damages, and or disbursements sustained by the U.S. as a result of the OPA incident. Despite the liability of the defendants to the U.S., the defendants have, instead of discharging debts owed to the U.S., transferred, sold, spun off, and assigned assets so as to prejudice and cause irreparable harm to the U.S."

The Department of Public Safety has placed the Ogumoro brothers under administrative suspension while their criminal cases are pending in Superior Court.

Aniceto Ogumoro is charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, one count of possession of a weapon without proper registration, and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition.

Police said during a raid at Aniceto Ogumoro's house on Feb. 6, 2006, they recovered three rifles and 25 boxes of ammunitions. At that time, he was the acting police chief.

Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo suppressed all the evidence found in that raid.

Ambrosio Ogumoro is charged with assault and battery, unlawful possession of a firearm, and two counts of unlawful possession of ammunition.

The prosecution said Ambrosio Ogumoro beat up his wife and was found illegally possessed a gun and ammunitions. He was then the Department of Public Safety' shooting range master.

The brothers pleaded not guilty.

May 26, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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