$2.4 Million Fine For American Samoa Oil Dumping

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$0.5 million of Sanford fine to benefit marine sanctuary

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 12, 2013) – Half-a-million-dollars of the $2.4 million total monetary judgement a federal judge has imposed against New Zealand based Sanford Ltd., owner of the fishing vessel San Nikunau, will benefit the National Marine sanctuaries in American Samoa.

Sanford was sentenced yesterday at the federal court in Washington D.C. after being convicted last August of dumping oil waste into U.S. waters outside American Samoa and falsifying records. The charges stem from the company’s fishing vessel San Nikunau’s visits to Pago Pago over the years.

Also convicted was James Pogue, a former chief engineer on the San Nikunau, for falsifying records to state that required pollution control prevention equipment had been used when it had not. He was also convicted of failure to maintain an accurate oil record book as required by U.S. anti-pollution law.

Federal prosecutors had initially recommended a criminal fine of $3 million but a supplemental filing Thursday this week sought a monetary judgement of $2.5 million.

Federal court records and a statement by the U.S. Justice Department (USDOJ) says Sanford Ltd. was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $1.9 million and pay $500,000 in community service to the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation for the benefit of the national marine sanctuaries in American Samoa.

Besides the criminal fine, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell also sentenced Sanford to 36 months probation, according to court records, but any specific conditions of probation were not yet available. Court records says the company is also required to pay a special assessment fee of $2,400.

Prosecutors had requested $500,000 to be designated as community service payable to the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation for the benefit of marine sanctuaries in and around American Samoa.

Prosecutors had also recommended that Sanford be given five years probation and prohibit Sanford vessels from calling on U.S. ports — including American Samoa — during the entire period of probation with the option, after one year, of lifting the prohibition on entry if Sanford implements an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) satisfactory to the court.

Sanford had disagreed with the federal government’s sentencing recommendation, seeking only $450,000 in criminal fine. It also says that the probation period and banning of its vessels in U.S. waters are moot, because the company no longer allows its fleet to enter or fish in U.S. waters and its ECP is already in place.

According to The Associated Press, the federal judge did give Sanford probation, but only for three years and during this period, Sanford is banned from fishing in U.S. waters unless it petitions the court and shows compliance with an ECP.

In a USDOJ statement, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno said yesterday’s sentence "makes clear that companies like Sanford, who deliberately break the law by discharging oil waste into the ocean over a period of years and lie to the U.S. Coast Guard about their activities, will be held fully accountable under U.S. laws."

Capt. Joanna Nunan, USCG Commander of the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and Captain of the Port in American Samoa said the Coast Guard is committed to working with the maritime community to help ensure compliance with these environmental standards.

"Some of the world's most pristine marine ecosystems are located in the South Pacific and it is important that the rule of law is regarded and respected even in the most remote areas," she said in the same USDOJ statement.

In a statement Sanford said it understands and respects the sentence and has voluntarily upgraded its environmental standards, reports Radio New Zealand International.

The government argued in court documents that for at least ten years, Sanford Ltd. had knowingly and routinely illegally discharged oil waste from the San Nikunau and falsified the vessel’s Oil Record Book. During that time, Sanford Ltd. was able to sell its tuna from the San Nikunau in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and earn nearly $23 million.

James Pogue

Former chief engineer on the San Nikunau, James Pogue of Idaho, was sentenced by Howell to serve one month in jail followed by 24 months of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $6,000 fine, according to court records.

Howell also granted the defense motion for Pogue to self surrender to federal authorities on a designated date and time. He remains out on personal recognizance until the U.S. Bureau of Prisons designates the federal prison camp where the defendant will serve his jail term.

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