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Did Justice Prevail? Inequity in Fines Paid for Oil Spill

1 Comment 05 April 2011

Did Justice Prevail? Inequity in Fines Paid for Oil Spill

On March 31, 2011, Koo’s Shipping Company S.A. (Koo’s), a Taiwanese corporation, pleaded guilty to falsely testifying about illegal oil discharge from one of its vessels into the Pago Pago Harbor of American Somoa.

Aboard the vessel were frozen fish and fish products. After a full investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Koo’s was found in violation of oil discharge practices using appropriate safety equipment, and a failure to keep accurate records of any and all oil discharge into the harbor.

After being found guilty, Koo’s is now on a 3-year probationary period and must pay a fine of $1 Million for violation of U.S. and International Laws Protecting Oceans.

“Koo’s is paying a just price for knowingly discharging oily waste into the ecologically sensitive harbor of Pago Pago.   This penalty will help restore and protect the environment of American Samoa,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

However, only $250,000 of the $1 Million fine will be allocated toward restoration of coral reefs and the pollution clean up in Pago Pago Harbor, with the National Marine Sanctuary and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services each receiving $125,000 for restoring the ecological integrity of Pago Pago Harbor.

Only one quarter of the mandated fine that Koo’s has to pay is delegated toward actually righting their environmental wrong. Firstly, environmentalists have to ask, “Is $250,000 enough to fully restore Pago Pago Harbor of sustained damage?” Secondly, they need to ask “Where is the criminal fine of  $750,000( triple the amount of money paid to actually bring justice to Pago Pago Harbor) going?”

The case was prosecuted by Fredrick W. Yvette of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia, and by Ken Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

Sadly, part of the grave inequity is a result of irreverence for international law on the part of Koo’s.  The fundamental injustice is also due to the lack of preparedness of the American justice system for responding to environmental crimes.

The area of underwater crimes, investigation, and prosecution is a new area of justice that Federal entities are swiftly trying to get a hold on. Modifying existing procedures and ensuring that adequate penalties suit crimes committed could take years.

In the meantime, environmentalists and seafood consumers can safely take Lady Justice by the hand and even up her scales a bit.

The high demand for imported commercial fisheries and fish products did not exist, then the supply and slipshod transport of products, would decrease respectively.

A $1 Million fine may not impose a profound financial impact on a commercial fishing company such as Koo’s, whose sales exceed many millions of dollars in exports. Hence, seeing justice prevail cannot be left in the hands of prosecutors, nor in the Environmental and Natural Resource Division of the Department of Justice.

Rather, consumers need to rethink their purchases of imported fish and fish products. Money talks. When commercial fish exporters notice that sales for their products sharply decrease , and that environmentalists are behind it, then there is a greater likelihood of adherence to international law to protect our oceans.

The world’s oceans and all their resources are at the mercy of buyers and sellers that are putting a price tag on precious resources. Be a responsible consumer and check the label of fish and fish products that you are purchasing.

Supporting domestic fishermen as opposed to fish imports can have a positive impact on local economic development and the environment. Lower the risk of oil spills, both those reported and those under reported, by shopping locally.

It takes an entire nation to see justice prevail. Save our oceans and consume seafood and fish products that don’t harm the very ecosystems that support them.

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Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Mike King says:

    125K is going to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation not the US Fish and Wildlife services. From what I’ve been told, By US Laws, 20-25% of the fine must go to a Non-Profit organization in the state or territory where the crime was committed and not a government agency.
    This is the second ship fined the first was Spanish Fishing ship caught fishing in US waters over a year ago. That fine was $5mil. We haven’t seen 1 cent so far. The funds are to go to coral reef restoration efforts in American Samoa not just the harbor area.
    I doubt that our organization, the Coalition of Reef Lovers (CORL) (a US based 501-(c)-3 not for profit public charity that has been doing coral reef restoration projects in American Samoa since 1999) will ever see any of the funds, but my fingers are crossed because we currently have no funds to continue our work here in American Samoa and are looking at closing down within the next three months if we can’t come up with 20K to at least cover our operating cost for the next year.
    American Samoa is a small US Territory but contains the only Indo-Pacific coral reef habitats within the US and its Territories. It’s waters and reefs are the home to over 900 species of fish and 240 coral species.
    The reefs here like many of the world’s coral reefs have been declining in health and much work is needed to turn the decline around. I just hope and pray some of the cash does make it here to AS and is used to take action to save American Samoa’s/USA’s coral reefs.

    Our website is http://www.corl.org if anyone would like more information.

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