NORFOLK, Va. —
A federal grand jury has indicted the owner, operator and chief engineer of a Maltese-flagged coal ship that has been detained in Virginia since April over alleged environmental violations.
The Virginian-Pilot reported Friday that the indictment names Malta-based owner Angelex Ltd, Liberian operator Kassian Maritime Navigation Agency Ltd. and the ship’s chief engineer, Lamros Katsipis.
The charges include conspiracy, falsification of records and obstruction of justice.
The owner has battled the U.S. Coast Guard in court since the ship and its roughly 20-member crew were detained. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Norfolk ordered the ship freed for a $1.5 million bond earlier this month — half of what the Coast Guard originally demanded.
“In more than thirty years on the bench, this Court can recall seeing no greater disregard for due process, nor any more egregious abdication of the reasonable exercise of discretion,” U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar wrote in an opinion.
The Coast Guard appealed his ruling. Oral arguments are scheduled for June 25 in Lewisburg, W.Va.
The ship loaded at Norfolk Southern Corp.’s Lamberts Point terminal on April 14. The following day as Coast Guard personnel conducted a routine safety examination of the ship, a crewmember passed a note to an inspector claiming the vessel’s oily water separator had been bypassed and that oily bilge water had been discharged overboard.
The crewmember provided photos of a makeshift pump and hose, claiming they were used to discharge the substance. The crewmember led inspectors to the items and they were confiscated along with additional evidence.
On April 19, the Coast Guard informed the port that the ship’s departure clearance was being withheld. It has been tied up at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal since then while the case makes its way through the court.
Katsipis was charged in federal court earlier this month with obstruction and falsifying records. He turned himself in and was released on an unsecured bond and ordered to remain at a local hotel.
His attorney, Trey Kelleter, said Katsipis denies the charges.
Katsipis’ wife died earlier this month in Greece, Kelleter said.
“This has been a tough time for him, but he understands he needs to stay in the United States and address the charges and vindicate himself,” Kelleter said.
An attorney for the company did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Five other crew members have been taken off the ship, detained as material witnesses, and are also staying at a local hotel.
A hearing on the charges in the indictment has been set for May 31 in Norfolk federal court.