A federal judge Thursday sentenced two former chief engineers of a chemical tanker marketed as one of the world’s most environmentally friendly ships to time they’ve already served for pollution crimes uncovered while the vessel was docked in North Charleston.
Judge Margaret Seymour also sentenced Panagiotis Koutoukakis and Herbert Julian — former crew members of the Green Sky — to one year of supervised release. The men had faced prison sentences of about two years.
Seymour said the men’s actions were the result of company culture by the ship’s operator — Aegean Shipping Management — that encouraged illegal behavior. Earlier this year, Seymour imposed a $2 million fine against the Greek maritime company for its role in allowing the pollution, which occurred in international waters.
Koutoukakis was found guilty in a trial this year of falsifying the ship’s oil-record book to cover up a series of illegal pollution discharges from the Green Sky. Julian, who succeeded Koutoukakis as the ship’s chief engineer, was found guilty of an obstruction charge.
Both men will be allowed to return to their home countries — Koutoukakis to Greece, Julian to the Philippines — after having been detained for nearly two years in Charleston.
Lawyers for both men called the sentences fair.
“He has been punished enough,” public defender Cody Groeber said of Koutoukakis, his client. “We believe his punishment is sufficient at this time.”
Prosecutor Christopher Hale had asked Seymour to sentence both men to prison terms, saying time behind bars would be the only way to deter others from similar crimes.
“This is a severe display of disregard for the law and the environment,” Hale said. “These cases will continue to happen until management faces some jeopardy where they are actually going to jail.”
Seymour disagreed, placing most of the blame on Aegean.
Of the $2 million that Aegean was ordered to pay, $300,000 will go to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, a protected natural reef off the Georgia coast, between Savannah and Brunswick.
The Coast Guard began an investigation of the Green Sky while it was docked in North Charleston in August 2015. Three crew members told investigators that bilge waste was being discharged illegally into the ocean through a “magic pipe” — a yellow hose that hooked into various pipes to allow a bypass of the ship’s oil and water separator.
Court records show Koutoukakis falsified entries into the ship’s oil-record book to make it appear as if no pollution was taking place. Julian’s obstruction conviction stems from charges that he should have known the oil-record book was inaccurate when he succeeded Koutoukakis but failed to report the inconsistencies.
The former captain of the Green Sky, Genaro Anciano. previously pleaded guilty to an obstruction charge for lying to Coast Guard investigators. Seymour also sentenced him to time served during a hearing in March.
Another defendant, Nikolaos Bounovas, was found not guilty of conspiracy and other charges during a trial earlier this year.
The 600-foot Green Sky is part of Aegean’s so-called “Green Fleet” of tankers advertised on the company’s website as offering “the best performance at sea, and the best returns for our environment.”
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Source: Post and Courier