March 31, 2005
(Official Unified Command photo)
Captain Singh appeared Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska and admitted that he made a material false statement to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the United States Coast Guard about the time the ship's main engine stopped and the vessel lost propulsion. The Selendang Ayu was sailing from Seattle to China under a time-charter agreement when, on December 6, 2004, the crew shut-down the main engine after seeing water spraying from a crack. Although the vessel began efforts to repair and restart the engine, Captain Singh did not notify the United States Coast Guard or call for the assistance of a tug boat until fifteen hours after the Selendang Ayu lost propulsion. By the time a tug boat was called and arrived on the scene, gale force winds and very heavy seas prevented the tug from stopping the Selendang Ayu's drift toward land.
The M/V Selendang Ayu ultimately ran aground off the coast of Unalaska after two-thirds of its crew had been evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter. Once aground, Captain Singh requested that the remaining eight crew members, including himself, be evacuated. The Coast Guard helicopter was performing the final evacuation when it was struck by a wave and crashed into the sea, according to court documents. Six members of the Selendang Ayu crew were lost and are presumed dead.
As outlined in the plea agreement, Captain Singh admitted that at the time the main engine stopped he did not make any entries in the ship's deck log recording the time or location of the ship, and he did not notify the company that was chartering the vessel. Captain Singh acknowledged that he knew that if he accurately recorded and reported the engine failure to the time-charterer, his vessel would immediately be considered off-hire, and the owner would not be paid for that time.
Captain Singh and nine of his surviving crew members were flown to Dutch Harbor, Alaska on the night of December 8. An injured crew member was taken to the hospital. The other nine surviving crew members remained aboard the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, accordingly to court documents. At the hearing, Captain Singh admitted that on the morning of December 9 he instructed one of his officers to assemble the nine crew members who were at the hotel in Dutch Harbor for a meeting. During the course of that meeting, Captain Singh told the crew members that he had written in the ship's Deck Log that the engines had stopped at 12:15 p.m., not 9:50 a.m. He admitted that he instructed these crew members that if they were asked about when the main engine had stopped, they should say 12:15 p.m., consistent with what he had falsely recorded.
(Official Unified Command photo)
In the following days, Singh and the entire crew of the vessel were interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board and the United States Coast Guard as part of the marine casualty investigation. Singh and the other crew members falsely told the federal investigators that the engine was shut down at 12:15 p.m., when they knew it was shut down at approximately 9:50 a.m. Captain Singh further admitted that after his initial interview with investigators, he gathered together the other nine surviving crew members who had now arrived in Dutch Harbor. As he had instructed the first group of nine, Singh told these crew members that they should also tell the investigators that the ship's engine stopped at 12:15 p.m., not 9:50 a.m. On December 15, after consulting with an attorney, Captain Singh finally revealed to federal investigators for the first time that he had previously lied to them and that the main engine had actually been shut down at 9:50 a.m.
"The success of investigative
efforts used by federal agencies tasked with determining the
cause of these tragic events is entirely dependent on the willingness
of witnesses to provide truthful statements,"said U.S. Attorney
Burgess. "We will prosecute anyone who impedes these investigations
by knowingly making false statements and instructing others to
Thomas C. McClenaghan, Special Agent in Charge of the Anchorage office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stated that "the Anchorage Division of the FBI is pleased to continue to successfully investigate these important environmental crime cases jointly with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Incidents such as the one involving the Selendang Ayu have potentially significant environmental consequences and these investigations remain one of the highest priorities within the FBI."
The breakup of the Selendang Ayu resulted in hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy fuel oil being spilled into the waters around Unalaska, creating the second largest marine oil spill in Alaska's history. According to Stanley Pruszenski, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement, "The heavy fuel oil migrated from the grounding site, contaminating the waters and shorelines of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. More than 1500 oiled and dead sea birds have been collected and miles of beach were contaminated with oil."
Because the captain voluntarily reported his crime and then fully cooperated with the government's investigation, the plea agreement does not call for a sentence of imprisonment, Burgess noted.
Captain Singh was sentenced to three years of probation. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he agreed to return to the United States if requested by the government to provide truthful testimony regarding the grounding of the Selendang Ayu. United States Attorney Burgess announced that the criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Coast Guard Criminal Investigative Service and the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division is continuing. This case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office in Alaska and the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section.