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Charges filed in connection with grain ship's long detainment in Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. - Federal charges have been filed against a German shipping company stemming from an investigation that detained the freighter Cornelia offshore from Duluth for six weeks late last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota anno...

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Two surfers wait for the right waves off of Park Point in December 2015 as the Cornelia sits at anchor in the distance. The 575-foot-long saltie spent six weeks detained off the shore of Duluth during an investigation last year. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)
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DULUTH, Minn. - Federal charges have been filed against a German shipping company stemming from an investigation that detained the freighter Cornelia offshore from Duluth for six weeks late last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota announced Wednesday.

MST Mineralien Schiffahrt Spedition und Transport, the German company that operated the Cornelia, was indicted in U.S. District Court on Wednesday on one count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution From Ships and eight counts of false entries/omissions in records in a federal investigation. A date for representatives of the company to appear in court has yet to be set.

The oceangoing freighter Cornelia was detained offshore from Duluth from early November until Dec. 18 amid an investigation into possible violations of U.S. environmental regulations "related to the discharge of oily water," the U.S. Coast Guard said at the time. The 575-foot Liberian-flagged ship eventually left Duluth carrying a full load of grain, headed to ports along the Mediterranean Sea, after an agreement was reached allowing the saltie to sail while maintaining the integrity of the investigation

The charges allege that the Cornelia and its crew violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships by failing to maintain an accurate ship record about the disposal of oil-contaminated waste, in addition to presenting falsified records to the U.S. Coast Guard. The indictment is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the grand jury indictment:

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From February through October last year, the Cornelia "experienced significant leakages of oily waste-water from its engines and other onboard machinery and equipment above and beyond the typical leakages that occur during the normal operation of a vessel. As a result, the M/V Cornelia was accumulating a substantial volume of machinery space bilge water."

The Cornelia's chief engineer or second engineer instructed members of the crew on at least 10 occasions to transfer the oily bilge water from a dirty bilge tank to the clean bilge tank - a separate tank intended to contain only clean, oil-free water - and then discharge the oily wastewater overboard. Oily wastewater allegedly was discharged in the Great Lakes on at least one occasion, although court documents don't specify where in the Great Lakes it occurred.

The Coast Guard previously reported that the alleged discharge did not appear to have happened in the Twin Ports.

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships mandates that bilge water can't be discharged into the ocean if its oil content is more than 15 parts per million, and requires large ships to maintain records documenting the discharge or disposal of oily bilge water.

Court records don't specify the amount of bilge water or the alleged oil content of bilge water discharged from the Cornelia.

The indictment alleges that the Cornelia's "senior vessel officers, acting within the scope of their agency and employment and at least partly for the benefit of the defendant, aiding and abetting each other, did knowingly fail to maintain and caused the failure to maintain" accurate oil and oily bilge water records.

It also alleges that they knowingly made false entries and omitted facts "with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence" a Port State Control Examination by the U.S. Coast Guard, conducted in part to ensure a vessel is following environmental guidelines. The "false and fictitious" records were presented to the Coast Guard in Duluth in early November, the indictment alleges, at which time the Cornelia was detained.

If convicted, penalties against MST could include forfeiture of property "which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the violation," the indictment states.

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As of Wednesday night, according to online ship-tracking websites, the Cornelia was in the eastern Mediterranean bound for the port of Iskenderun, Turkey.

Related Topics: SHIPPINGCROPS
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