Wed, Apr 06, 2005 - Page 1 News List

US court slaps record fine on Evergreen

UNREPENTANT The Panama-registered firm deliberately discharged oil waste near American ports, but despite pleading guilty it claims it all came down to human error

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

After a four-year legal battle, Taiwan's largest container-shipping firm, Evergreen Marine Corp, yesterday confirmed it will pay a record US$25 million fine for discharging oil in international waters near US ports.

The fine is the largest ever in a case involving deliberate pollution by a marine vessel in US history, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a news statement on Monday.

The US Coast Guard first investigated the spill of 1,900 liters of oil into the Columbia River near Kalama, Washington, in 2001. Through vessel traffic reports and oil samples, the Coast Guard traced the spill to an Evergreen container vessel registered in Panama.

Over a three-and-half-year period, seven Evergreen ships used bypass pipes to "regularly and routinely discharge oil waste and sludge waste" into the ocean near five US ports without first treating it in an oil-water separator, according to the EPA.

Another felony charge brought by the US Department of Justice was the failure to keep an accurate Oil Record Book, a log required by both international and US law.

"Evergreen illegally discharged waste oil and then attempted to conceal its actions, thereby compounding its crimes," said Thomas Skinner, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in the statement.

"The deliberate and purposeful pollution of our oceans and America's waterways must be met with strict enforcement," Deputy Attorney General James Comey said in the statement, adding that the penalty against Evergreen was a "victory" for all Americans who enjoy and respect the environment.

The Taiwan-based maritime company, however, claimed that the Columbia River spill was an accident caused by human error.

"We have taken full responsibility for the actions of employees who failed to comply with the worldwide company policy of protecting the environment," spokesperson Barbara Yennias said.

The company argued that felony charges were undue punishment.

"We never refused to cooperate with the US authority. Nor did we intentionally discharge untreated sludge and bilge into US waters," said Tsai Jia-quien (蔡佳蒨), chief of Evergreen Marine Corp's public relations office.

The firm said it pleaded guilty as it feared that dragging out legal action may damage its business.

The charges were brought by US attorneys in Los Angeles, Seattle, Newark in New Jersey, Portland and Charleston in South Carolina.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Evergreen will pay US$15 million to the five jurisdictions and another US$10 million for environmental community service projects.

Evergreen is also required to tag overboard valves, flanges and other equipment that would make bypassing untreated oil waste more difficult. The Evergreen Group's other three maritime companies -- Evergreen America, Greencompass Marine SA and Evergreen International -- are also bound by the decision.

The company said it would also minimize environmental pollution through the purchase of new S-type vessels -- "green ships" with double-skinned hull and fuel tanks located inside the bulkhead that reduce the risk of leakage.

This story has been viewed 5919 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top