Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A Greek shipping company pleads guilty to polluting at sea and then trying to cover it up. It came in a plea agreement in federal court in Baltimore.
Alex DeMetrick explains the case was heard in Baltimore because this is where the whistleblower alerted the Coast Guard.
When ships are in port, time is money. Safely unloading used oil and sludge adds to that time and cost. To save time, some ships illegally dump at sea.
In federal court in Baltimore, Efploia Shipping pleaded guilty to dumping after a crewman alerted Coast Guard inspectors.
On ships, a whistleblower can make a case.
“It’s very valuable. It definitely helps the process. It points us in the right direction and keeps us from just going around in circles,” said Chief Matt Jones, U.S. Coast Guard.
Under the plea deal, the shipping company pleaded guilty to four counts, including obstruction of justice and falsifying documents.
It will pay a fine of $925,000 and another $275,000 to help clean the Chesapeake. Under the law, Salvatore Lopez could get up to half of the $925,000 fine.
His lawyer says the Philippine resident desperately needs money after blowing the whistle and being blacklisted.
“He has four small children. He has one severely disabled. He is without any money because he did the right thing,” said Stephen Simms, Lopez’s lawyer.
The judge will ultimately decide just how much of the fine Lopez will receive. Until then, he remains a whistleblower in limbo.
“He has no job. The steamship company won’t hire him again because he blew the whistle,” Simms said.
Past cases documented by other shipboard whistleblowers have led to convictions and far stiffer fines.
Wednesday’s plea agreement is only one of two expected in the dumping incident. The owner of the ship has also been charged, as well as the Greek company that managed the ship.