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Rewards for Whistleblowers

Evidence photo taken with a whistleblower’s cell phone

Photo Credit: US Department of Justice

In 2001, there were roughly 88,000 ships over 100 gross tons registered to operate as part of the global commercial fleet. Of these ships, it is estimated that ten to fifteen percent regularly break the law and intentionally dump oil into the seas.

Whistleblowers are key to prosecution efforts. More than half of all MARPOL cases occur as a result of crewmembers alerting US authorities about illegal discharges or false records.

In the United States, according to a special provision in the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (33 U.S.C, Section 1908 a), individuals involved in reporting a violation that leads to a conviction are eligible to receive up to half of the fine incurred by the company.

In the past three-and-a-half years, over one third of maritime prosecutions have resulted in awards to whistleblowers, ranging from $40,000 to $400,000.


“A person who knowingly violates the MARPOL Protocol, this chapter, or the regulations issued thereunder commits a class D felony. In the discretion of the court, an amount equal to not more than ½ of such fine may be paid to the person giving information leading to conviction. -- "APPS, 33 U.S.C, Section 1908 (a).


US v. Ilios Shipping Company

Date: Dec 13, 2011

Whistleblower Award: One whistleblower received $350,000

The Crime: Violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships; Failure to maintain an accurate oil record book.

Penalty: Ilios Shipping Company paid a $2 million penalty.

The Report: A crew member emailed a letter, photographs, and a video to the Coast Guard that described and showed the illegal discharge setup. The photographs and video depicted two pumps and two hoses that appeared to be used to pump sludge, oily waste, and oily bilge water directly into the sea, bypassing the vessel’s required pollution-prevention equipment. When the vessel arrived in New Orleans on April 18, 2011, Coast Guard personnel boarded the vessel and found the hoses depicted in the photographs and videos.

US v. Ionia Management

Date: April 8, 2011

Whistleblower Award: Three whistleblowers received awards of $500,000, $350,000 and $350,000.

The Crime: Thirteen counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, three counts of falsifying records in a federal investigation, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of conspiracy

From Jan. 1, 2006, to March 20, 2007, crewmembers aboard M/T Kriton, operated by Ionia Management, made false entries into the ship's oil record book indicating that they had regularly used the ship's oil pollution prevention equipment. Evidence at trial proved that the equipment was rarely, if ever, used and, instead, crewmembers pumped the ship's oil-contaminated wastes and sludge directly from the ship into the ocean using a rubber hose.

The Penalty: Ionia Management paid a $4.9 million penalty.

The Report: On March 20, 2007, the Coast Guard received a report from the Kriton’s electrician that the ship, then berthed at the Magellan Terminal in the Port of New Haven, had been discharging oily bilge water directly overboard through a bypass hose.

US v. General Maritime Management

Date: April 7, 2009

Whistleblower Award: Five whistleblowers shared an award of $250,000.

The Crime: Violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships; Crewmembers used a hose to create a connection between the ship’s bilge pump and the overboard discharge valve, thereby bypassing the ship’s oily water separator and pumping the contents of the bilge tank directly into the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. General Maritime Management (Portugal), the operator of a fleet of tanker vessels, and two crewmembers of the motor tanker Genmar Defiance were found guilty of making false statements to the US Coast Guard and failing to maintain an accurate oil record book.

The Penalty: General Maritime Management paid a $1 million penalty.

The Scenario: Two engine room crewmembers secretly photographed the illegal bypass hose. They provided the photographs to the Coast Guard during a boarding of the vessel on Nov. 28, 2007 while the Genmar Defiance was docked at the Valero refinery.

US v. Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc.

Date: Dec 19, 2006

Whistleblower Award: 12 whistleblowers each received $437,500.

The Crime: Thirty-three felony convictions in six different judicial districts, including violations of the Clean Water Act, Oil Pollution Act, the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships as well as conspiracy, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

Twelve OSG vessels illegally discharged sludge and oily waste and deliberately concealed pollution through the use of false oil record books. In other instances, pollution-prevention equipment was tricked by flushing a sensor designed to detect oil with fresh water during overboard discharges.

Penalty: Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc. paid a total of $37 million, the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution.

The Report: Twelve whistleblowers contributed to this case, including: a fitter of the M/T Uranus who made a bypass pipe on the orders of the chief engineer, but only after having his employment threatened. He was so outraged by dumping so close to the New England shore that he created a secret journal inside of another book, in which he recorded the dates illegal discharges were made.

A fourth engineer on the M/T Alcesmar, who was to be sent home to the Philippines after making allegations to OSG, contacted the US Coast Guard with the help of a hotel night clerk in Wilmington, N.C. and turned over evidence taken from the ship.

A second engineer and third engineer and two oilers of the M/T Pacific Ruby who together called a US Coast Guard hotline to report that the chief engineer was tampering with newly installed anti-tricking equipment, which resulted in discharges into the Gulf of Mexico

US. v. Wallenius Ship Management

Date: Aug 3, 2006

Whistleblower Award: Four whistleblowers shared an award of $2.5 million

The Crime: Wallenius Ship Management pled guilty to seven felony counts, including obstruction of justice, false statements and violating the federal Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships through the use of a so-called “magic pipe” to discharge sludge and oil-contaminated waste overboard from one of its ships, the M/V Atlantic Breeze.

The Penalty: Wallenius paid a $5 million criminal fine and an additional $1.5 million community service payment.

The Report: Crewmembers on the M/V Atlantic Breeze, a car carrier vessel managed by Wallenius Ship Management, sent a fax to an international seafarers’ union that they were being ordered to engage in deliberate acts of pollution, including the discharge of oil-contaminated bilge waste and sludge as well as garbage and plastics.

US. v. OMI Corporation

Date: Aug 6, 2004

Whistleblower Award: A whistleblower received $2,200,000

The Crime: Violation of APPS; Obstruction of Justice; The motor tanker Guadalupe, owned and operated by wholly-owned subsidiaries of OMI Corporation, made port calls in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. A chief engineer authorized ship engineers to bypass the incinerator and oily-water separator system, discharging waste oil, sludge, and oily-water mixtures directly into the high seas. In an effort to conceal these oil discharges, false and fraudulent entries were made in the oil record book. When the US Coast Guard boarded the ship in the Port of Carteret to conduct an inspection, officials were presented with the false oil record book . The captain of the ship then tried to cover up what had happened.

The Penalty. OMI Corporation paid a $4.2 million penalty.

The Report: When the ship arrived in Carteret, New Jersey, the ship’s second engineer walked off the ship and directly to the local police department, where he reported that he was being ordered to engage in criminal activity.

Crewmembers are not the only ones who are eligible to report violations.

In fact, one of the first cases wherein a substantial monetary reward was given resulted from a video taken by a cruise ship passenger.

The passenger witnessed crewmembers throwing garbage over the side of the ship rather than disposing of it using the proper protocol and reported it.