–Penalties associated with violating U.S. environmental laws

For more specific information about U.S. laws, please refer to SCI’s publication “U.S. Pollution Laws.”

You may know about some of the environmental regulations you must follow while working aboard a vessel but not about what happens if you violate the law. Below are a few of the penalties contained in the common pollution laws affecting vessels in U.S. waters.

Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS)/MARPOL

Anyone who violates MARPOL or APPS may face a civil penalty of no more than $25,000 for each violation. Each day of a continuing violation constitutes a separate violation. U.S. law classifies knowingly violating the provisions of MARPOL as a serious crime (a Class D felony) punishable by up to 6 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a corporation for each violation.9

The Clean Water Act (CWA)

If a court finds a violation of the CWA due to criminal negligence (e.g., carelessness, inattentiveness), it will impose a fine—a minimum of $2,500 with a maximum of $25,000 fine per day for the first offence and a maximum fine of $50,000 per day for the second offence. A violator may also face up to a year in prison.10

The Oil Protection Act of 1990 (OPA)

Failing to notify the appropriate federal agency of a discharge can result in severe consequences—penalties of $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for an organization and/or a maximum prison sentence of five years.11

The Refuse Act

Violating this act carries penalties ranging from $500 all the way up to $200,000 for corporations. Depending on the loss to another party from the violation, a judge may assess even higher fines.12

Violation of The Refuse Act is a strict liability offense, meaning it does not require proof that you or a fellow crew member meant to put a banned substance into the navigable waters of the United States. A court may convict solely on proof that a person or persons placed a banned substance into navigable waters of the United States (even if by accident).

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA)

A court can assess civil penalties for violations of CERCLA—commonly known as Superfund—up to $25,000 per day for each day during which the violation continues.

The court may award up to $10,000 to an individual who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person for a violation of CERCLA.13

9 33 U.S.C. § 1311.

10 33 U.S.C. § 1319(1).

11 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

12 33 U.S.C. § 407.

13 42 U.S.C. § 9609(d).

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