The U.S. Coast Guard will not take action on charges of sexual harassment and illegal oil dumping made against officers of a Sea-Land Service Inc. containership.
The Coast Guard investigators concluded that while sexual harassment did take place on the Sea-Land Endurance in early October, the incident was not serious enough to merit disciplinary action.The agency also concluded that while the ship dumped waste from its oil and bilge tanks overboard, the waste was adequately cleansed and thus not an
infraction of environmental protection laws.
"I'm disappointed," said Laura Kovary, the ship's officer who brought both complaints. "I'm really disappointed. I guess I'm most disappointed in the individuals involved."
Ms. Kovary last fall served as the ship's third mate for trips between Japan and the United States. During the voyages, the captain of the ship insisted on displaying posters of topless women despite her objections.
At one point, he ordered her to rehang the posters after she had taken them down. On the same trip, Ms. Kovary said that the ship's engineer illegally pumped oil waste into the Pacific Ocean.
Oil and bilge waste is supposed to be offloaded at port and sent to an authorized disposal site. Ships' crews are sometimes suspected of illegally dumping such oil wastes at sea to avoid the problems involved in storing them onboard.
The Coast Guard verified Ms. Kovary's charges of sexual harassment and sent the captain of the ship a letter of warning.
It did not take any action against his license, saying that further disciplinary action would be up to the company.
"We feel what we did is the appropriate level of action," said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Rennard, the Coast Guard's chief investigative officer in Long Beach.
Dan Ramsay, Sea-Land public relations manager for Pacific services, said the sexual harassment case will be "reviewed and handled internally" by the company. He said it's company policy not to reveal what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken.
On the dumping incident, he said there was "no damage to the environment. . .Maybe there was a technical error in how it was logged. We're taking steps to remedy that."
The Coast Guard said it was unable to get witnesses to back up Ms. Kovary's claim of illegal oil waste dumping.
Lt. Cmdr. Rennard said that the agency's investigation revealed that waste
from the oil "slop" tanks was dumped, but that it had been treated and washed beforehand.
"The question is are they oil slops?" said Lt. Cmdr. Rennard. "Our answer is they are not."
The agency did conclude that the ship violated paperwork rules for the activity and sent a letter of warning to the chief engineer.
Ms. Kovary said the Coast Guard mishandled the pollution investigation.
The Coast Guard began to seek testimony from two key witnesses more than two weeks after it sent its warning letter to the engineer, she said.
In addition, the agency revealed her identity to the company, something the investigators promised not to do.
"I might as well write off Sea-Land as an employer," Ms. Kovary said.
Lt. Cmdr. Rennard admitted that revealing Ms. Kovary's identity was a mistake.
He also disclosed that one of the witnesses she says could back her claim is currently in a job dispute with the company.
"Obviously we've got to make an assessment on the credibility of witnesses," he said.