Protecting the Health and Future of the Planet
Some people might say that a whistleblower is someone who does the right thing and is punished for reporting wrongdoing internally with their employer, to a government agency or to the media. Those who witness fraud or other wrongdoing may be fearful of harsh consequences, like workplace harassment, the end of professional advancement, or the loss of a job and difficulty finding another one. But one thing that motivates whistleblowers is the conviction that those who break the law should be held accountable for the harm they inflict. Sometimes this extends to protecting future generations as well as our own.
Whistleblower cases involving Medicare fraud and dishonest government contractors are frequently reported in the news. But there’s another type of harmful action that can affect all of us, both now and in the future — environmental fraud, including illegal pollution of the ocean and the nation’s waterways.
Ocean pollution whistleblowers do their part to fight a serious problem.
Ocean pollution is widespread and harmful to ecosystems, according to the Pew Oceans Commission.
- Pollution kills wildlife directly and indirectly by harming coral reefs and the marine food chain. It can also make seafood unsafe for human consumption. Cleaning ocean pollution and its impact can also drain millions from the economy. It is estimated that pollution kills millions of seabirds and about a hundred thousand marine mammals each year. About 1.3 million gallons of oil spill into the country’s waters annually.
- Ocean pollution can be in many forms and originate from many sources. These pollutants can be naturally occurring chemicals (like trace metals and oil) present in unnaturally high concentrations due to human activities as well as manufactured substances (such as pesticides).
- Some pollutants cause harm not because they are directly toxic, but because they encourage unnatural levels of biological activity that change habitats. Large amounts of organic matter in sewage or fish processing wastes boost the growth of microbes that use up oxygen, potentially wiping out wildlife in an area. Dumping of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus result in more organic matter than an ecosystem can handle, resulting in blooms of toxic algae.
- Pollution comes indirectly from a number of sources or can come from direct discharges from specific locations. Industrial and municipal sources of wastewater make their way into rivers that drain to the coast. Ocean-going vessels can also illegally dump toxic chemicals and waste directly into the water.
Ocean pollution whistleblowers may be rewarded for their actions
Those working in the maritime industry can fight against the pollution of our oceans. There are many federal laws intended to prevent ocean pollution, but only the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) contains a provision making a whistleblower reward possible. This helps to encourage and enable maritime workers to act, come forward, risk retaliation and combat pollution. APPS’ provision states that successful whistleblowers (who need not be U.S. nationals) could receive up to one-half of an assessed fine as a reward for their actions.
APPS violations include the dumping of oil-based substances and other identified toxic liquids into the ocean.
Violations also include keeping a false logbook of discharges, record-keeping required of ships of a certain size. Polluters face costs in the millions of dollars because of fines or the cost of settling legal actions. Whistleblowers play a critical role in these cases because otherwise the illegal pollution may not come to light.
Listed below are some of the environmental frauds exposed by whistleblowers:
- Carbofin (an Italian shipping company) paid a $2.15 million settlement for illegal dumping and false record-keeping in 2014, actions which were uncovered by four whistleblowers who received a $1.075 million reward from the U.S. government.
- Princess Cruise Lines paid the federal government $40 million in 2016 to resolve claims that the company dumped oily substances into the ocean ($2 million was for APPS violations; much of the rest was for the company’s cover-up of its pollution). The company’s acts were revealed by a whistleblower, a former cruise ship engineer, who may receive up to $1 million.
- Two companies, Egyptian Tanker Company and Thome Ship Management, have agreed to pay a settlement because of their illegal discharge of oily waste and garbage into the Gulf of Mexico from an oil tanker. The Coast Guard was tipped off about the problem by a crew member during a ship inspection. He gave them a written statement, pictures and a video of the dumping. That crew member may get up to 50% of the fine, or about $950,000.
How we can help
Whistleblower law is very complex, and without knowing about the law you may mistakenly say or do something that may seriously impact your legal rights. If you work in the maritime industry and have knowledge of illegal pollution in our nation’s waterways or the ocean, the experienced whistleblower lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm can review your case and help you file the appropriate disclosure statement. Under some circumstances, the government will intervene, or join in your lawsuit.
For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call the Louthian Law Firm today at 1-803-454-1200 or, if you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.