Seafaring whistle-blowers, frequently seeking a financial bounty, have become one of prosecutors' most potent weapons against maritime polluters, providing the backbone for a growing number of cases the federal government has pursued in port cities across the country. Most of the cases involve illegal dumping of sludge and oily bilge water, the residue from the engines. International conventions that the United States adopted in 1980 require ships to separate out oil, then incinerate it or store it until reaching port. The law also forbids dumping plastics.
In a recent case, a crewman had hundreds of photos on his phone that showed his employer's ship had been illegally dumping oily water and sludge overboard. Partly because of his evidence, two companies that owned and operated the ship pleaded guilty last month to obstruction of justice and other charges and agreed to pay $1.2m each in penalties and fines.
For his sleuthing, the crewman stands to collect as much as $925,000.
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