September 16, 2010

Judas Kiss

Although the headlines have tended to get stuck to the twenty three million dollars Chief Engineer Ioannis Mylonakis is suing his erstwhile employers for, I am more worried about something else that the Georgios M affair has thrown up: the apparent nexus between fake whistleblowers, the Mamidakis group as owners and managers and the US authorities. There is something seriously wrong when seafarers are criminalised after an accident, but it is truly contemptible when collusion between crew, owners and the US- that otherwise champions an individual’s rights-ends up trying to shaft an innocent Chief Engineer. If true, this behaviour deserves to be condemned loudly and widely before the industry’s already shaky reputation is irretrievably damaged any further.

Briefly, the facts appear to be these: Last year, Styga, a Mamidakis group company and managers of the Georgios M, admitted in the US that it used permanently installed magic pipelines hidden below the floor plates of the engine room for dumping oily water at sea, and had been doing so for some time. Styga plea-bargained a $1.25m fine and a three-year probationary inspection programme; it also agreed to assist the US authorities in prosecuting three ex-Chief Engineers. Mylonakis had been Chief Engineer for about three months before he was arrested in February 2009 after Filipino whistleblowers on board accused him of dumping oily water off Texas using a magic pipe; Mylonakis vehemently protested his innocence right through his fifteen month ordeal and detention in the US, saying he did not even know about the permanent magic pipelines installed by Styga below the engine room plates. A Houston jury agreed, acquitting him finally in May this year; additionally, the court found that the fake whistleblowers testified that Mylonakis had used the magic pipe bypass only in exchange for immunity by US authorities. And no doubt for the percentage of any fine, a questionable practice in itself.

Mylonakis has now sued Mamidakis, including many of its biggest honchos - all of whom appear to be interlinked in a typical see-no-evil, hear-no-evil single ship owner-manager nexus, The Chief Engineer accuses the owners of having a deliberate policy of dumping oily water at sea and says that they, in essence, fed an innocent guy (himself) to the sharks in a plea bargain arrangement with US authorities. I presume he cannot sue the entities in the US that authorised his persecution; it would be nice if he could do that.

The entire affair, sleazy and squalid, has many players who have behaved odiously. The owners, for one, who have reportedly colluded with the US authorities as well as- apparently- the crew in a plea bargain arrangement more in keeping with the aftermath of a sordid drug bust than anything else. (The fact that they, admitted polluters, tried to maliciously blame an innocent Chief Engineer deserves nothing but contempt). Half a dozen crewmembers for another, who seem to have perjured themselves in some dirty back-office deal. And the US authorities, of course, who seem to have had no hesitation in prosecuting an innocent foreign officer in a deal some would call shady- as the verdict has shown- have hardly covered themselves with glory either. In fact, of all the players in this drama I find their behaviour the smelliest. Maybe they thought they were going after Al Capone all over again in a C grade Hollywood flick.

Seafarers elsewhere are hardly much better off. Example: the Ukrainian Captain and Mate sentenced to nine years in Venezuela recently after officials found cocaine welded onto their ship’s hull. As far as I know, there is no other evidence directly linking the officers to the cocaine, but that does not seem to matter. Neither does the fact that the practice of drug smugglers using such methods without the ship’s collusion- or even knowledge- is nothing new in that part of the world. There are possibilities that the two mariners may be sent to Margarita, one of the most harsh prison island colonies in the world.

Hugo Chavez’s politics, some say. I say it is just another case of ignoring justice or basic human rights when it comes to mariners; a practice now malignantly sanctioned across the world because States get away with it.

The deficit in trust between owners and managers on one side and seafarers on the other is nothing new, especially when a casualty or an environmental incident is involved. However, widening this atmosphere of suspicion to include crew who may well have ulterior motives for blowing the whistle- or who may not hesitate to fabricate evidence or perjure themselves in exchange for their thirty pieces of silver- introduces a new dimension to this sorry state of affairs. Nightmares of a Judas kiss from shipmates in league with owners, managers and authorities will give many an innocent Master or Chief Engineer sleepless nights aboard. It now appears that a Port State can get into bed with every one of those elements, should they be criminally inclined, and victimise anybody- making a criminal out of him instead.

I hope that a US court awards Mylonakis his millions, provided of course, that Mamidakis is found guilty in the civil suit. I hope that there is a way to bring those fake whistleblowers to justice, and deliver opprobrium to those in authority in the US who approved the plea bargains. And I hope that this case gets huge publicity in shipping circles, if only for the deterrence value: the only thing that will stop some owners thinking along the same lines as Mamidakis have reportedly done is the twenty three million. Nothing gets a ship owner’s or manager’s attention faster than the possibility of a kick in their wallets.

Mylonakis was lucky, in a sense, that he was arrested in a country where the courts had the integrity to find him innocent; we all know there are many other countries where the judiciary will have been part of the corruption, adding another element to the criminal nexus and contributing to the absolutely intolerable behaviour that more and more mariners are exposed to today.

This, in 2010. The year of the seafarer. Hooray and well done, folks.


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