Master Faces Jail Time and Fines After Crew Reports MARPOL Violation

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The master of a UAE-owned product tanker pleaded guilty today, June 11, to obstruction and violating ship pollution prevention laws during an appearance in a Louisiana court. The master who will be sentenced in September could face both jail time and significant fines and this comes after the ship’s owners and managers separately pleaded guilty with a proposed $2 million fine.

The criminal case against both the master and the shipping companies stems from the report of a crewmember who two weeks before the vessel reached New Orleans, reported the incident to the U.S. Coast Guard. This individual and another crewmember blew the whistle and provided evidence, including photos and videos showing oil being pumped overboard and trailing behind the tanker to the Coast Guard. The crew-supplied evidence was presented in court as a key part of the prosecution.

According to the Department of Justice, Captain Abdurrahman Korkmaz, age 37, a Turkish citizen, pleaded guilty to two counts, including violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and obstructing proceedings. Korkmaz is scheduled to be sentenced on September 10. He faces a maximum penalty of six years in prison, with a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gain or loss from the offense, for the APPS charge. He also faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, with a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gain or loss from the offense, for the obstruction charge.

Korkmaz was the captain of the PS Dream, a Panama-flagged product tanker (51,233 dwt). The PS Dream arrived in New Orleans on January 26, 2023, and during a routine inspection, the U.S. Coast Guard reviewed the vessel’s oil record books. The inspection resulted in the vessel being slapped with nine violations for lack of pollution prevention and problems with its certificates, as well as issues with the gyro compass and the cargo tank ventilation system.

Korkmaz acknowledges presenting the books to the Coast Guard knowing that they omitted information about discharging oily waste to the ocean before arriving in the United States. The falsified logs were intended to conceal the fact that beginning on January 11, the crew had dumped oil-contaminated waste overboard on the voyage to New Orleans and was not complying with international treaties regulating oil pollution from ships.

According to documents and statements filed in court, Korkmaz ordered his crew to pump overboard from the residual oil tank which contained oily waste. A portable pump placed inside the tank and connected to a long flexible hose was used to discharge directly into the ocean without any required pollution prevention equipment or monitoring. The waste oil, including sludge, originated in the engine room and had been improperly transferred into the residual oil tank on the deck of the ship by a prior crew.

Senior managers at the two related companies that operated the PS Dream, Prive Shipping and Prive Shipping Denizcilik Ticaret, were aware that the oil-contaminated waste remained in the tank. They admitted in their guilty plea that were informed by Korkmaz that it had been dumped overboard. Both companies are scheduled for sentencing on September 26 under a deal whereby they would pay $2 million. 

The proposed $2 million criminal penalty includes $500,000 in organizational community service payments that will fund various maritime environmental projects in the Eastern District of Louisiana. The court also has the authority to award up to $500,000, half of the APPS portion of the fine, to the whistleblowers who provided evidence leading to conviction.

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