Recounting an incident that occurred in the commercial sector, Adrian McCourt, managing director of Watkins Superyachts, emphasises to his fleet the importance of reporting any incidents of pollution at sea and the severity in which such incidents can be viewed by the authorities.
“It is never a wasted reminder to say that the days of hiding pollution incidents are all but over and reporting inadvertent discharges at sea honestly and quickly are viewed favourably by the authorities,” explains McCourt, who recalls one story that occurred on board an oil tanker headed for the US.
“The chief engineer advised the Master in passing that he had pumped out just short of 2000 tonnes of cargo and engine room sloops to sea over night,” tells McCourt. “The Master advised the manager, who duly panicked of course, and simultaneously radioed ahead and reported this to the US Coast Guard.”
Coastguard inspectors boarded the vessel on arrival en masse and the company’s managing director and Designated Person Ashore (DPA) had taken the first flight out and were also waiting on the quayside. The USCG inspectors were unsurprisingly thorough and even sent divers down to sample residues in and around the overboard discharges.
“In the meantime, the worried MD had to make some pretty uncomfortable calls to his charterer – one of the oil majors – and could see his future revenue with that particular client slipping away, and undoubtedly preparing himself for the news to spread around the market,” McCourt continues.
“For those of us who have gone through the pain barrier with the USCG over the years, we know they can be a powerful adversary indeed."
Following a long day of a full inspection and grilling of all crewmembers, a group of USCG senior managers summoned the chief engineer, captain, MD and DPA for a conversation that went along the lines of:
USCG: 'Chief, please tell us all again what you told our senior inspector'.
The chief engineer explained in great detail, and seemingly without remorse, how he'd gone to the engine room alone at night and decided to dump 2,000 tonnes of thick black discharge into the sea.
USCG: 'Chief, we have been all over this ship: we have measured, checked and interviewed, and there isn't 2,000 tonnes of anything missing. How do you explain that?'
The chief engineer: 'You will have to ask Jesus – he's the one who told me to pump it over the wall.’
A much-relieved MD sat with the tired and vulnerable chief engineer on the flight home, where his family and the company medical team were waiting to greet him. The captain did not get his stay in prison, but enjoyed a nightcap with the Coastguard inspectors. Their final word to him was: 'Captain, it is never wrong to report any suspected or actual discharge to sea – we are on your side. But if you don't report it, we're not.’
“For those of us who have gone through the pain barrier with the USCG over the years, we know they can be a powerful adversary indeed,” concludes McCourt. “And it is not just the US. Yachts are reminded to report all discharges to sea aside from water. We will always be supportive, but our efforts will be severely constrained if there has been any attempt at deception.”