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ANCHORAGE - A federal judge fined four maritime companies $5 million Wednesday for their role in an ocean pollution conspiracy involving oil dumping from cargo ships that regularly transport goods from Alaska to Asia, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage.
U.S. District Court Judge James M. Fitzgerald also ordered Boyang Maritime, Boyang Limited, TransPorts International and Oswego Limited to place another $500,000 in an escrow account to pay for an environmental compliance plan.
Prosecutors said $1 million of the fine will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to benefit the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses much of Alaska's offshore islands, including the Aleutians.
The companies pleaded guilty in August to being part of the conspiracy since at least 1995. They acknowledged working together to tamper with witnesses and falsify records to avoid spending time and money to comply with pollution laws, prosecutors said.
Officers of the companies appeared in federal court Wednesday for the sentencing. The four companies together run a fleet of more than a dozen cargo freighters that travel in Alaska.
Earlier this year, a corporate director and two corporate managers involved with the companies were indicted by an Anchorage federal grand jury on charges they were part of the same conspiracy.
In Seok Yang, director of Boyang Maritime and Young Min Han, an onshore manager at Boyang, are accused of witness tampering, including telling crew members to lie to federal investigators. Gum Hyang Kwon, another onshore manager at Boyang, is accused of trying to prevent witnesses from telling the grand jury about Boyang's oil dumping practices, prosecutors said.
The three, as well as a ship's captain and first engineer, are fugitives, according the U.S. Attorney's office.
A ship's captain and two chief engineers already have already been convicted in the dumping.
During an inspection in Dutch Harbor in February, the Coast Guard discovered the freighters, which transport frozen seafood from Alaska to Asia, were bypassing oily water separators and dumping oil waste at sea. The pollution prevention devices separate oil from water and are supposed to produce water clean enough by government standards to discharge from the ships.
The first phase of the seven-month investigation lead to the conviction of a ship's captain and two chief engineers. The three were convicted of falsifying records, obstructing the Coast Guard's inspection and tampering with the federal grand jury's investigation.
In Ho Kim, the chief engineer of the Khana, was sentenced to six months in prison. Je Yong Lee, chief engineer of the Sohoh, was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Doo Hyun Kim, captain of the Khana, was convicted for instructing his crew to lie to investigators about the oil discharges. He was sentenced to six months in prison.
Prosecutors are not sure how much oil was dumped or its environmental impact. The vessels will continue to operate in Alaska waters as long as the companies comply with the sentence.