Pity about the shags, but don’t blame the crew – Sanford says the boat was at fault

The activities of Kim Dotcom aren’t the only matter of interest Down Under for American justice officials.

They have our Sanford fishing company in their sights, too, as a consequence of something going awry in American Samoa.

No doubt by now they have been given an account of an environmental mishap that has featured in the news media today – the Stuff report can be found here.

The incident resulted in an estimated four tonnes of oil or something similarly undesirable being spilled into Timaru Harbour, although it had been contained and mostly cleaned up by yesterday afternoon.

And who was to blame?

Actually, it wasn’t a someone. It was a something.

Sanford Deepwater manager Darryn Shaw said one of its deep-sea fishing vessels, the San Enterprise, was at fault.

Early indications were that an internal pipe had failed, he said. That would have caused fuel to make its way into another compartment and then overboard.

And nothing like this has happened to the company before?

Of course not.

“It’s certainly a unique event. We’ve never known something like that to happen before,” he said.

“The vessel had been in port on Monday and Tuesday, and there were no signs of anything untoward. However, we were informed on Wednesday, about 7.15am, that there was fuel leaking. We called in the response team as soon as possible.”

Mr Shaw said the incident was extremely regrettable.

“We’re still not sure how it occurred in this way, and we will be examining our vessels which have similar piping systems,” he said.

Environment Canterbury’s response team worked with the vessel owners to help complete the cleanup.

A bloke called Grant Finlayson has the wonderful title of South Canterbury on-scene commander for oil spills.

He said wildlife had not been affected as badly as first feared, although a “few shags” may have come into contact with the oil.

He agrees this is a matter of something rather than someone buggering things up.

“This was an incident where mechanical failure, rather than human error, appears to be the cause,” Mr Finlayson said.

News media nevertheless have been keen to find out whether the offending company will be prosecuted.

They took this question up with ECan resource management director Kim Drummond, who said the council will investigate the incident’s cause and effects.

We learn there have been 23 separate prosecutions for spills of hydrocarbons into the Timaru harbour since 1994.

And guess whose name is included in the round-up…

The most recent was late last year after the Korean-owned Pacinui, which Sanfords sub-chartered, spilled more than 171 litres of oil into the harbour in January 2011. Sanfords was fined $7500.

The number of incidents had dropped within recent years, “but to have two incidents within a relatively short space of time is concerning”, Mr Drummond said.

Greenies who keep an eye on these things will know that Sanford CEO Eric Barratt has been denying US charges alleging deception and obstruction of justice by his company’s tuna boat, San Nikunau.

Back in December he was saying the charges are aimed at extracting a settlement but he will be vigorously defending them.

At that time –

The listed fishing company was yesterday indicted by a US federal grand jury over charges of pollution, conspiracy and obstruction of justice and faces a maximum fine of US$3.5 million ($4.4 million).

The charges claim the $25 million fishing vessel San Nikunau discharged oily bilge waste into the sea and then presented false documents to American Samoan authorities and the US Coast Guard.

Barratt said there had been no pollution and the San Nikunau had been providing paperwork routinely to Pago Pago port authorities for several years, until they found fault with it on a recent trip.

“I’m at a complete loss,” he said. ”They allege we failed to fill out an oil record book. And because we didn’t fill it out properly we’ve apparently obstructed justice.”

This case could wallop the company in a big way if he has been misled by his staff.

Although the indictment sought criminal forfeiture from Sanford of more than US$24 million for proceeds derived by Sanford as a result of its conduct, Barratt said this was clearly excessive.

”The US$24m is all the fish we’ve ever landed there since 2006,” he said.

”All they’re trying to do is force us into negotiation.”

In a statement to the stock exchange at that time, Sanford said it took its responsibilities seriously

“…and would never permit discharges of pollutants into the ocean and nor would we obstruct any reasonable investigation into any allegations made against the company.”

But are all his people singing from the same hymn book?

More recently, a former chief engineer from the San Nikunau was putting up his hands and pleading guilty to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

Rolando Ong Vano, 50, entered the guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He served as the chief engineer on the vessel, which was owned and operated by New Zealand’s Sanford Ltd., during several fishing trips in the South Pacific between March 2006 and July 2011. Sanford Ltd. and another prior chief engineer from the vessel have been charged with obstruction of justice and APPS violations; they are currently awaiting trial.

According to the plea agreement, the F/V San Nikunau routinely discharged directly into the sea oily bilge waste from the engine room and other areas of the vessel without using required pollution prevention equipment. Vano admitted to falsifying the oil record book and lying to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors that the required oil water separator was used on the vessel. The Coast Guard discovered the violations during an inspection of the vessel in American Samoa in July 2011.

Vano will be sentenced in early September.

Again, Sanford is maintaining it has done no wrong.

Its press release on 18 April said –

“Sanford Limited will Defend San Nikunau Charges in the United States”

Sanford Limited is aware that a Filipino relief chief engineer who served on the San Nikunau for a short time has entered into a plea agreement with the United States Department of
Justice.

Sanford Limited has not seen the plea agreement and was not privy to his conduct nor would it have condoned his conduct.
Sanford Limited will continue to vigorously defend the allegations.

Alf is pleased to hear this.

Dunno if there have been further developments in that case. Must get Mrs Grumble to check things out.

But while he is happy to accept it has done nothing wrong – not wittingly, anyway – it seems it could be a bit more choosy about the people it hires.

Bloody Filipinos who buckle under a bit of official pressure should be left on dry land.

Sanford should need no reminding that the Rena finished up on rocks near Tauranga under the seamanship of Filipinos.

Italians aren’t too clever when it comes to avoiding trouble, either.

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