State urges judge to uphold Greenpeace pollution convictions

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2005

KETCHIKAN - The state is urging a judge to uphold convictions in which the activist environmental group Greenpeace was found guilty of violating Alaska oil pollution prevention laws.

The defense is trying to have the convictions thrown out, arguing that they are inconsistent.

A Ketchikan jury found Greenpeace Inc. and Arctic Sunrise Capt. Arne Sorensen guilty May 9 of violating Alaska oil pollution prevention laws. Greenpeace was found guilty of two counts of operating a ship without oil spill contingency plans on July 12 and July 14, while being found innocent of operating without a certificate of financial responsibility for cleaning potential spills on those dates.

Greenpeace was in Southeast Alaska to conduct an anti-logging campaign in the Tongass National Forest. The Arctic Sunrise had sailed into Alaska waters on the first date, and departed Ketchikan on the second.

The jury found Sorensen guilty of two counts of operating without contingency plans on both dates and guilty of not having the financial responsibility certificate on July 12, but found him innocent of operating without the certificate on July 14.

Willem Beekman, the ship's agent, also was charged with operating without either document on July 14. The jury acquitted him of both charges.

Defense lawyers for Greenpeace Inc. and Sorensen said the convictions were inconsistent and asked District Court Judge Kevin Miller to reverse the jury's verdicts.

In an 18-page response, Assistant Attorney General James Fayette wrote that Alaska case law requires judges to review the evidence "in the light most favorable to upholding the jury's verdict."

"It is too facile to simply review mixed verdicts and conclude 'something went wrong,"' he wrote. "Nothing went wrong. The jury accepted some of the prosecution's arguments and rejected some others."

The defendants' replies are due on Friday.

Under state law, a non-tank vessel larger than 400 gross tons must file an oil spill response plan application five days before entering state waters.

The Arctic Sunrise is managed and operated by a Dutch company, Stichting Marine Services. Stichting Marine Services, which was responsible for filing such documents, corrected the error within 24 hours of being notified of the problem and stepped forward to accept full legal responsibility for the late filing, Greenpeace said.

Fayette said the misdemeanor criminal charges were filed only after the Arctic Sunrise departed from Ketchikan before the paperwork was finalized, in violation of an order to stay anchored.

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