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Full Steam Ahead: Maltese Coal Ship Gets Its Day In Court

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on June 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments today on the Coast Guard’s appeal of a District Court’s ruling to free a Maltese coal ship that has been detained since April 19, 2013.

The detention stemmed from alleged environmental violations resulting in charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and falsification of records. How did the Coast Guard come to these conclusions? Via a crewmember, of course. It must be the year of the whistleblower.

On April 14, 2013, the Maltese coal Ship loaded at Lamberts Point Terminal in Norfolk and when the Coast Guard ran a routine inspection a crewmember secretly informed the inspector of environmental violations. The Associated Press reports that the crewmember reported that the vessel's water separator was bypassed and that oily bilge water had been dumped overboard. The note also included photos to back up his claims and he led inspectors to physical evidence.

Five days later, on April 19, the Maltese coal ship's clearance was withheld, and the ship has remained at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal while the case is making its way through the judicial system. More than two-months later, the ship is still tied up there.

So what's the hold up? We're not sure.

In May, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar lambasted the federal government stating:

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.

Pretty harsh words from the bench. Not only that, but Judge Doumar steamrolled the federal government by ordering the Maltese coal ship freed for half of what the Coast Guard demanded -- a mere $1.5 million bond.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Richmond, Va., however sometimes it hears cases, in other areas of its jurisdiction, in this case Lewisburg. The Maltese coal ship is finally getting its day in court -- it's full steam ahead!

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