October 27 - The United States Department of Justice has announced that two German shipping companies that owned and operated the general cargo ship Nils B have pleaded guilty before a federal court in San Diego on charges of discharging oil contaminated

The Department of Justice statement said the ship's operator - W. Bockstiegel Reederei GmbH & Co. KG and owner W. Bockstiegel GmbH & Co. Reederei KG MS "NILS B" pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships by failing to accurately maintain the ship's oil record book.

"In doing so, the firms failed to disclose that oil contaminated water had been discharged into the ocean from the vessel without the use of pollution prevention equipment," the read the statement.

According to the plea agreement, US Coast Guard personnel boarded Nils B on August 5, 2014 after its entry into the Port of San Diego. "The Coast Guard discovered that the crew had failed to keep an oil record book for a significant period of time, modifications had been made to piping coming from the oil water separator, and oil was discovered in discharge piping that should not have been present," added the Department of Justice.

According the Department of Justice, the defendants acknowledged that Coast Guard examiners took oil samples from the oil water separator's overboard discharge valve and from the vessel's sludge tank and the samples from the two locations matched.  Under US and international law, sludge is never to be discharged through an oil water separator.

The Coast Guard also discovered a black hose near the oil water separator that contained oil slightly weathered light fuel oil mixed with lubricating oil. In the industry, such a hose is known as a "magic hose." The defendants, in pleading guilty, admitted that the oil record book on board the vessel did not disclose any discharges of sludge between the time that the overboard discharge valve had been cleaned while the vessel was in dry dock in June of 2014 and its entry into the Port of San Diego in August.

With sentencing in this case set for November 3, the Department of Justice said that according to the plea documents, the company and the US government have agreed to recommend that the court impose a criminal penalty of USD750,000, of which USD250,000 will be used as a community service payment to benefit the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.