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Written by Brandon King   
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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Crimes Against the Environment

The Environment’s Worst Offenders… While going green has become better for the corporate bottom line across the United States, there are still times when circumventing environmental laws and regulations maximizes margins. Below are four corporate criminals who shirked environmental responsibility when it became too costly:

1) Michael Evangelos Psomadakis and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
On October 25, 1994, a possible oil discharge was detected coming from what was “then the largest cruise ship in the world,” Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas. After capturing the slick on video, the United States Coast Guard and Justice Department launched an inquiry which eventually led to the discovery of a “fleet wide conspiracy… to save millions of dollars by dumping oily waste into the ocean.”1

Cruise ships are equipped with an anti-pollution device called an oil-water separator, which filters oil that has dripped from machinery from seawater. The filtered seawater is released back into the ocean, while the oil is collected and stored for removal onshore. Proper onshore disposal of oil is expensive, as it can cost a cruise ship operator up to $300,000.00 a year. Oil-water separators are also “notoriously difficult to operate.”2 Rather than operate this important device, several Royal Caribbean cruise ships simply bypassed it and discharged oil and waste directly into the sea. “Oil books were falsified so routinely”3 that Norweigan engineers referred to them as Eventrybok, or fairy tale, in Norweigan.

The fairytale ended in 1998, when Royal Caribbean was ordered to pay a record $9 million in fines.4 The company vowed it would never happen again, but it did: Royal Caribbean reported to the Coast Guard on July 15, 1998 that engineers aboard the Nordic Express had discharged ‘oily waste’ into the ocean. Michael Psomadakis, a Greek citizen and the Nordic Express’ chief engineer, was questioned by the Coast Guard the next day. He denied claims of an oil discharge and presented a falsified oil record book to support his claims. Two days later, Psomadakis was dismissed from Royal Caribbean. While being escorted to a hotel in Miami to collect his personal belongings, Psomadakis evaded FBI agents by exiting out a backdoor. He is currently thought to be in Greece, and is wanted on multiple charges of illegal dumping of oil and conspiracy.

For more information on pollution at sea read this GreeniacArticle.

2) John Karayannides and Sabine Transportation Co.
In 1998, Sabine Transportation Company purchased the S.S. Juneau with the intention of “carrying a cargo of wheat for Care and World Food Programs from Portland, Oregon to Bangladesh.” On October 27, 1998, the S.S. Juneau began its trip carrying 113,000 metric tons of wheat. The journey appeared uneventful, but when the Juneau arrived in Bangladesh that December, crew members discovered that 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel had leaked from the bottom of the cargo tank, contaminating 440 tons of the cargo of wheat.

The contaminated cargo was refused in Bangladesh, and a decision was made to try to dispose of it in Singapore. However, after receiving an initial bid of $139,000 from a waste disposal company—far higher than Sabine was willing to pay—it began exploring other options. With all legal methods of disposing the diesel-contaminated wheat looking costly, Sabine’s Vice President John Karayannides did what any smart white-collar criminal would do… He hired 15 Bulgarian laborers to dump the contaminated grain directly into the South China Sea. He later lied to investigators, saying that the wheat had been cleaned before being dumped.

Sabine paid a $2 million fine,5 but Karayannides fled the United States, most likely to Greece. He is charged with illegal dumping of oil and conspiracy.

3) William Austin Morgan and Hydromet International
In January 1995, Hydromet International purchased a facility in Newman, Illinois from a metals recycling company that had used it to treat “various forms of hazardous waste.”6 Hydromet’s plan to reclaim valuable metals from hazardous waste was unprofitable from the beginning, as the company did possess any “technically or environmentally viable”7 means to separate materials. Nor could it safely or legally dispose of any hazardous waste, but it still continued to accept it, allegedly accepting more than 3.8 million pounds of “toxic and reactive wastes”8 between 1995 and 1998. These wastes included cyanide, arsenic, lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, nickel and selenium.9

Hydromet’s unprofitable facility shut down in early 1998, and an injunction filed in Illinois state court ordered Hydromet to process or dispose of the materials at a permitted site by May 31, 1999. Disposing of the waste legally would have cost Hydromet a lot of money it didn’t have, so it used false documentation to ship the waste to warehouses, non-hazardous landfills, and “other illegal facilities”.10

William Austen Morgan, the former CEO of Hydromet, was believed to be hiding in Canada by the EPA after a 2006 Illinois indictment, however, he has been reported as deceased in October 2009.11

4) Denis Feron and Chemetco
Denis Feron was the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Chemetco, an Illinois copper smelter that, until its bankruptcy in 2001, produced about 50% of the United States’ non-mined copper output.12 Part of Chemetco’s productivity was due to the fact that it bypassed EPA waste disposal requirements by installing a secret pipe at its factory and used it to dump pollutants directly into Illinois’ Lake Long, a tributary of the Mississippi River. For ten years, from 1986 to 1996, Chemetco pumped waste water containing cadmium, zinc, and lead into Long Lake; these pollutants are hazardous to both wildlife and humans.

Owner and CFO, Denis Feron, along with his colleagues were charged with violating the Clean Water Act. Rather than face the possibility of a five year sentence and $250,000 fine, Feron fled to his native Belgium. In January 2010, Feron resurfaced and paid $500,000 in restitution; all remaining charges against him were dropped.13 However, the impact of his company’s irresponsibility stands: “1,500,000 tons of slags, sludges, and other materials of environmental concern”14 remain at the former Chemetco site.

The Latest and Worst Attack Seen In United States History… As British Petroleum undergoes intense scrutiny for causing what many are calling the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, it is a good time to remind ourselves that they are neither the first nor the last company to leave a lasting negative impact on the environment. And while the magnitude of the BP oil spill in the Gulf is almost incomprehensible, it was an accident, at least that’s what it is classified for the time being. The actions of these four environmental outlaws, most certainly, were deliberate.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 )