The United States Department of Justice announced today that it has fined Azure Fishery LLC and related parties a total of $475,000 in civil penalties for various violations of the Clean Water Act, including illegal oil discharges from their commercial, longline fishing boat.
The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for Hawaii, alleges five causes of action against six defendants, including Azure Fishery LLC company managersHanh Thi Nguyen and Khang Nguyen Dang, company member and prior owner Tuan Hoang, vessel operator Andy Hoang and current owner Linh Fishery LLC.
In addition to the willful, oil discharges from the Jaxon T (now known as the St. Joseph) into the ocean offshore of Hawaii, the complaint alleges that the defendants failed to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily mixtures on board. Also, the defendants routinely pumped a combination of fuel oil, lubricating oils, water, and other fluids from the vessel’s engine room bilge into the Pacific Ocean rather than retain the waste on board.
“We will continue to protect our precious natural resources by enforcing the nation’s environmental laws,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji M. Price in a news release. “This settlement and the other tremendous work performed by the law enforcement community in this area should encourage owners and operators to proactively make necessary repairs and improve their waste disposal practices. Violators who fail to act on this message will face similar, or more severe, consequences.”
Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard 14th district, said this was the fourth case involving illegal oil discharge practices in the Honolulu-based longline fishing fleet brought to court this year.
“All vessel owners and operators are responsible for maintaining their vessels and preventing illegal discharges of oily wastes into the ocean,” Lunday said in a news release. “We are committed to the people of Hawaii to protect our waters and the Pacific Ocean from the damage caused by illegal pollution.”
The complaint also alleges that company managers Nguyen and Dang fraudulently transferred the vessel to the current owner, Linh Fishery LLC, shortly after the Coast Guard discovered the violations in March 2017, which rendered Azure Fishery LLC insolvent, and thus, unable to pay a civil penalty.
As part of the settlement, the U.S. seeks reimbursement for the value of the fraudulently transferred vessel from the beneficiaries of the transfer, which include Linh Fishery LLC, Nguyen, Dang and Tuan Ngog Hoang, under the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act.
Nguyen and Dang must each pay $211,000 for the Clean Water Act penalty claims, plus a joint fine of $53,000 for their share of the fraudulent transfer claim under the act.
They must also make corrective measures across their fleet of 25 Hawaii-based longline fishing vessels, which includes repairs to reduce the quantity of oily waste generated during a voyage, proper training of crewmembers, accurate documentation and other actions.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period, court review and approval.