Japanese fishing company fined $1.5M for pollution and cover-up

District Court of Guam (PNC file photo)

A Japanese fishing company, Fukuichi Gyogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (“Fukuichi”), was convicted and sentenced for two violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding at the District Court of Guam. 

The charges, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, stemmed from discharges of waste oil and oily bilge water from the F/V Fukuichi Maru No. 112 into international waters and the attempt to cover up those discharges when the vessel was inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard in Apra Harbor, Guam.

The charges also included failing to properly document the discharge of fishing gear and plastics from the vessel, and obstructing a Coast Guard Port State Control inspection.“When Fukuichi broke the law when they intentionally discharged oily bilge waste into the ocean. To make matters worse, they tried to cover up their unlawful acts by obstructing the routine Coast Guard inspection,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“The Department will continue to work with its partners to ensure that companies, both foreign and domestic, comply with the rule of law.”

U.S. Attorney Shawn N. Anderson stated, “Fukuichi’s fishing vessel plied the waters of the
Western Pacific for decades in disregard of basic environmental precautions. It would have
continued to do so but for the United States asserting jurisdiction in this criminal prosecution. Our waters and reefs are worthy of protection through punitive enforcement action. We will target any companies or persons who engage in similar unlawful conduct.”

Fukuichi pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an agency proceeding, and two counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

The company was ordered to pay a $1.5 million criminal fine and to serve a five-year term of probation, during which vessels owned and/or operated by the company will be banned from entering the Exclusive Economic Zone, Territorial Sea, or a port or terminal belonging to the United States without prior approval.

Fukuichi will also be required to implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) that includes vessel audits. The ECP and associated audits must be sent to the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port prior to any of the company’s vessels entering U.S. waters or a U.S. port. The COTP will have the discretion whether to allow such entry based upon the company’s compliance with international and domestic laws governing pollution and safety.

Fukuichi was the owner and operator of the vessel, which conducted fishing operations
throughout the Pacific Ocean. The vessel entered Apra Harbor, Guam, on April 1, 2019, for
repairs to its cargo refrigeration system. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel and discovered fifteen pollution and safety deficiencies and detained the vessel. The inspectors discovered numerous leaks of water and oil into the bilges, and asked the Chief Engineer to demonstrate operation of the Oil Water Separator (OWS). The Chief Engineer was unable to demonstrate how to operate the OWS and the inspectors determined the OWS had not been used.

The case was investigated by U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Guam, with assistance from the Coast Guard Investigative Service. The prosecution was handled by Senior Trial Attorney Kenneth E. Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant United States Attorneys Mikel Schwab and Marivic David of the District of Guam.