By David Jones
NEWARK, N.J., July 23 (Reuters) - Two European shipping firms were ordered on Tuesday to pay a $10.4 million penalty and given four years probation for illegally dumping oil-tainted bilge water as well as falsifying records.
The firms - Columbia Shipmanagement GmbH of Germany and Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd of Cyprus - admitted to illegal activity on three oil tankers and one container ship, including bypassing the use of required pollution prevention equipment.
Both firms are subsidiaries of Schoeller Holdings Ltd, a closely-held shipping and hotel company based in Limassol, Cyprus.
The companies in March pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, making false statements and failing to maintain accurate oil record books, which are inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Whistleblower crew members had supplied authorities with photographs and video footage of three ships dumping contaminants, such as sludge and oily waste, far out at sea, taken before the vessels underwent inspections along the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware and California.
Another ship was found to have falsified records found in its oil record book while anchored in New York and headed for New Jersey.
The case represents the largest-ever shipping pollution settlement in New Jersey or Delaware history, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the plea agreement, $2.6 million of the penalty will be used to help restore beach communities in New Jersey and Delaware that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Both attorney Thomas Mills, representing the shipping firms, and prosecutor Kathleen O'Leary of the Assistant U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey, declined to comment. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg, G Crosse)