S.D.Ala.: The Coast Guard had authority to board a moored ship to conduct an oil dumping investigation; a complete search occurred after PC developed

A whistleblower contacted the Coast Guard that his oil tanker he was on approaching Mobile had been oil dumping. The Coast Guard boarded the ship when it was docked and conducted an inspection of the engine room and common areas. They obtained a search warrant to copy hard drives off computers after the whistleblower slipped them a flash drive of files. The boarding of the ship and search of the common areas for an oil dumping inspection was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The company and some officers were indicted for pollution crimes. United States v. DSD Shipping, A.S., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116865 (S.D.Ala. September 2, 2015):

In addition to § 89(a)’s broad grant of authority to enter a vessel, the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (“APPS”), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1901 et seq. also provides the Coast Guard with specific authority to investigate potential oil pollution. The APPS makes it a crime for any person to knowingly violate the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (“MARPOL”). The United States Coast Guard is specifically authorized to examine a vessel and its Oil and Garbage Record Books for compliance with MARPOL and APPS. 33 U.S.C. §1907(d); 33 C.F.R. § 151.23(a)(3) and (c); MARPOL Protocol, Annex V, Regulation 9(5); and 33 C.F.R. § 151.61(a) and (c).

In this case, the Coast Guard received information from a whistleblower concerning possible violations of MARPOL. When the M/T Stavanger Blossom arrived at port in Mobile, the Coast Guard boarded to investigate. After reviewing the ORB, the Coast Guard personnel visited the engine room, where they noticed a section of piping around the OWS that had been freshly painted. A crewmember and whistleblower, Rolando Babon, then gave the Coast Guard a flash drive of photographs and video of the alleged oil dumping. Another crewmember, Enong, confirmed that he too saw the crew collect plastic bags of sludge and cast the bags overboard. Armed with both the information of the recently painted area near the OWS and that provided by two crewmembers, the Coast Guard personnel interviewed the engine room staff regarding the questionable activity. Under these circumstances, it is evident that the Coast Guard had probable cause to conduct a stem to stern search of the M/T Stavanger Blossom.

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