Shipping company's fines cut

A SHIPPING company and its master, who were ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs after a major pollution incident on the River Orwell have had their total bill cut by £28,000.

A SHIPPING company and its master, who were ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs after a major pollution incident on the River Orwell have had their total bill cut by £28,000.

An oil slick extended over four miles of the River Orwell after 1.5 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled from a Turkish freighter in September 2004.

A number of swans were affected and had to be taken to a wildlife centre in Norfolk to be cleaned and oil residue from the spillage remained on the shores of the river for up to five weeks afterwards, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

In December Mustafa Colcuoglu, 64, the master of the Haci Emine Ana, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 costs by magistrates after he admitted discharging oil into United Kingdom waters.

Ship owner Arif Kalkavan Ogullari Gemicilik admitted the same charge and was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £20,600 costs.

They appealed against the magistrate's order and Colcuoglu had his fine reduced to £2,000 while Gemicilik had their fine reduced to £50,000. The cost orders in respect of both were not changed.

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Agreeing to reduce the fines Judge John Devaux, who was sitting with two magistrates, said the spillage had been the result of “serious negligence”.

He said that an internal checklist concerning the transfer of fuel on board the freighter from one tank to another had not been followed in a number of important respects.

In addition Judge Devaux said he found it “astonishing” that the master of the vessel, who was asleep at the time of the spillage, hadn't become aware of it until more than an hour after river officials had gone on board to collect samples.

Judge Devaux said that in his opinion the master was not running a “tight ship”.

However he said the court had to have regard to his means and had therefore decided to reduce his fine by £3,000.

The judge said the company's fine was excessive and this was why the bench had decided to reduce it by £25,000.

The court heard that the owners of the freighter would have to pay a £33,000 civil bill for the clean up operation resulting from the spillage.

Ian Lawrie for Associated British Ports said the oil spillage was spotted by port pilot Robert Stevens during the early hours of the morning and he had alerted the deputy harbour master.

As soon as the extent of the pollution was realised help was called in from Harwich and the Haven Hornbill pollution fighting vessel was sent out.

Officials from the port quickly identified the freighter responsible and when they went on board they found the deck had been cleaned and looked spotless. However no one from the vessel had reported the leak to the harbour authorities.

Edmund Broadbent representing the owners and master of the vessel said the accident had happened when members of the crew were transferring heavy fuel oil from one tank to another. They had not followed strict safety procedures and as a result tried to fill a tank, which was already full resulting in the oil overflowing onto the deck and down the sides of the vessel into the port.

By the time the crew knew what was happening the authorities had already been informed so there was no point in their repeating the information.

As a result of an internal investigation by the company all the crew involved in the oiling operation had been dismissed as had the chief engineer.