Former president of United Marine Division of the ILA, Local 333, William Harrigan, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly releasing oily bilge water directly into Lake Huron.
FROM DETROIT FREE PRESS
Absorbent diapers, a garden hose and a blue bucket were just some of the tools used in a scheme to dump oily bilge water from a Great Lakes tugboat into Lake Huron, causing a slick spotted from the air that was twice the length of a football field.
And now, two engineers from the tug Victory are accused of conspiring to discharge the oil-contaminated water into Lake Huron and other areas of the Great Lakes. They’re also accused of releasing the dirty water at night to make it difficult to detect the resulting sheen.
According to a federal grand jury indictment handed up last month, Jeffrey Patrick, chief engineer aboard the Victory, and William Harrigan, first assistant engineer, allegedly released the oily water into Lake Huron from mid-May 2014 through the end of that June. The indictment does not say when or where other discharges occurred.
"The Great Lakes are some of Michigan’s greatest assets, and we need to ensure that we protect them for generations to come,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who is overseeing the prosecution.
The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington in Bay City.
“Vessel pollution is a major problem on the high seas, with more oil pollution each year than from the Exxon Valdez spill. It occurs far less often in U.S. waters, which makes this case unusual,” said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan who served for 17 years at the U.S. Department of Justice, the last seven as chief of the Environmental Crimes Section, where he was the top environmental crimes prosecutor in the country.
Harrigan was arrested Tuesday in his hometown of Portland, Maine, and was released Wednesday. His Portland lawyer, Toby Dilworth, declined comment. Patrick was arrested in May in Marquette. His lawyer, John Mitchell of Cleveland, also declined comment.
The men face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the conspiracy charge and up to three years and a fine of $50,000 for every day they violated the federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits the discharge of oil or other hazardous substances into U.S. waters in harmful quantities. Harmful is defined as any amount that can cause a visible sheen on the water.
Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association of suburban Cleveland, which represents U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes, said: "I’ve never heard of this happening to one of our vessels."
The tug’s owner is one of association’s 14 member companies. In 40 years in the industry, Nekvasil said, "I do not recall this happening before."
The tug Victory pushes the James L. Kuber barge. The boats are owned by Grand River Navigation of Traverse City. With its Canadian sister company, they have a combined fleet of 15 vessels that transport a variety of commodities across the Great Lakes, including limestone, coal, iron ore, salt and grain.
The companies are part of Rand Logistics of Jersey City, N.J. A Rand spokeswoman declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
According to the government’s case, an engine crew member reported the oily discharges to the Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie on June 30, 2014. That same day, the Coast Guard sent a helicopter into the air over the Victory, which was traveling northbound on Lake Huron. The Coast Guard spotted two sheens in its wake — one east of Cheboygan that was an estimated 20 feet by 600 feet and another east of Alpena that was an estimated 50 feet by 50 feet.
The crew member told the Coast Guard that a contraption involving a garden hose and large blue bucket was used to release the oily bilge water into Lake Huron. The crew also used diapers to remove bilge water, then discharged the remaining oily wastes into lake water. The Coast Guard seized what it called the bypass system.
According to the indictment, Harrigan assembled the system.
Bilge waste comes from spills and leaks from piping and tanks, and precipitation and waves. It becomes contaminated with oil, lubrication fluids and other liquids that leak or drip from engines or pipes and hoses that run throughout the ship.
Bilge holding tanks must be emptied periodically. The waste can be put in an on-shore waste facility or pumped out of the ship after it is processed through a properly functioning oily water separator.
According to the indictment, the ship’s oily water separator wasn’t working properly, prompting the use of the bypass system and diapers.
The case was investigated by the Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Whenever a company or its employees knowingly fail to comply with environmental laws, both public health and wildlife are placed at risk,” said Jeffrey Martinez, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Michigan. “This case sends a strong message that the American people will not allow our environmental laws to be violated, adversely affecting both public health and marine life."
Rear Adm. June Ryan, commander of the Coast Guard 9th District based in Cleveland, said in statement: “The Great Lakes are an extraordinary natural resource and the men and women of the Coast Guard are deeply dedicated to protecting and preserving this national treasure for future generations. This is another great example of federal agencies working together to protect the environment.”
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