Whistleblower Client Rewarded Maximum Recovery for Reporting Oil Spill Cover-up
As a result of a Whistleblower complaint filed by James Legg of Anchorage, Alaska, on October 23, 2007, Polar Tankers, Inc., a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, pled guilty to failure to maintain an oil record book aboard the T/V Polar Discovery, an 895 foot crude oil tanker in violation of 33 U.S.C. §1908(a) of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The statute requires all ships to record all transfers of oil and oily waste occurring on the vessel, including emergency and accidental discharges of oily waste.
As detailed in Mr. Legg’s whistleblower complaint, on January 16, 2004, the crew aboard the T/V Polar Discovery was transferring the oily sludge from the engine room tanks through piping to a holding tank on deck. An open valve caused sludge to spill onto the deck and through the scuppers – holes in the ship that allow water and other liquids to drain off the deck. Instead of reporting the spill, the captain slowed the vessel and turned it away from the wind so that the crew could clean off the oil left on the side of the ship where it had drained through the scuppers. The captain then falsified the bridge logbook by reporting the change of course as a man overboard drill.
The ConocoPhillips’ tanker company has agreed to pay a government fine in the amount of $500,000 as well as make a $2,000,000 contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Court also awarded the whistleblower, James Legg, the maximum reward of 50% of the fine or $250,000 for his efforts in the case.
Mr. Legg, an Engineer aboard the T/V Polar Discovery at the time of the spill, was represented by co-counsel, Brandon J. Lauria.
“Mr. Legg is a courageous and conscientious citizen who reported Polar Tankers’ wrongdoing because it was in the public interest. The Court’s decision to award Mr. Legg with the maximum statutory reward for his efforts is significant because it recognizes the vital role played by whistleblowers in combating acts harmful to our environment,” said Mr. Lauria.
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