YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Chief engineer sues owner

Greece’s Mamidakis group and related interests are targets of a whopping $23m lawsuit in Texas by a Greek chief engineer who accuses the ship’s owners of sacrificing him to US prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain deal to cover up their own deliberate policy of dumping oily waste at sea.

Besides accusing his former employers of setting him up for a fall, Ioannis Mylonakis is claiming that the Mamidakis family, the principals behind the Jetoil-Mamidoil SA group, deceived US authorities about the extent of their wealth and the connections among the legally separate corporate entities that make up their group.

Besides group companies and the vessel itself as an “in rem” defendant, the suit names as personal defendants president Kyriakos Mamidakis, technical director Emmanuel A Mamidakis, general manager Alexandros G Prokopakis and two other board members, Nikolaos Mamidakis and Alexandros N Mamidakis.

Styga Compania Naviera, the Mamidakis-controlled entity that manages the 69,900-dwt products carrier Georgios M (built 1995), admitted in its October 2009 plea agreement to a history of dumping sludge on the high seas, using permanently installed and elaborately concealed equipment for the purpose. In return for its plea, Styga paid a $1.25m fine and agreed to a three-year probationary environmental-compliance inspection programme.

“The agreed fine is disproportionately small considering the magnitude of the actual wealth of the Mamidakis defendants and Helford,” wrote Houston lawyer George Gaitas of Chalos & Co, accusing the group principals of evading responsibility for criminal acts by deceiving the US government about their wealth and the ownership structure of the group. Helford is the one-ship Mamidakis group company that owns the Georgios M.

“Styga… was thereby used as a lightning rod to deflect responsibility from the other defendants,” Gaitas wrote.

In the plea deal, Styga also agreed to assist the government in its prosecution of former employees, mentioning three chief engineers as having personally conducted “magic pipe” operations on the company’s behalf since December 2006.

But in May of this year, a Houston jury acquitted Mylonakis, one of two former chief engineers being tried after Styga pled out. The jury found the testimony of Filipino whistle-blowers less than credible.

Mylonakis had served on the tanker for less than three months before his arrest and his lawyers successfully argued that he never learned of the ship’s pollution-enabling installations beneath the engine-room floor plates and that their concealment made it impossible for him to have discovered them through ordinary due diligence as chief engineer.

Mylonakis had been detained in the US since the original 19 February 2009 call of the tanker at Texas City, Texas.

During that time he had suffered medical problems. His retirement pension and health insurance had lapsed as well, as a result of his not working as a seafarer during the period.

Mylonakis’s lawyers demanded the shipowner’s help with medical treatment but in correspondence that has been released as part of the $23m lawsuit, US lawyers for the owner wrote that “Styga declines Mr Mylonakis’s request for additional benefits over and above the generosity the company has already shown your client to date”.

As illustrations of this generosity, the owner’s Boston lawyer, David Hetzel of Dewey & LeBoeuf, mentioned that Styga had paid its chief engineer’s salary and also “provided him with continuous lodging and maintenance throughout the period of his detention by the US government”.

But Mylonakis’s claims for medical expenses and lost personal income are tiny next to his demands of $14m in other compensatory damages, $7m in punitive damages and $1.5m in civil penalties to the US government, a sum to be split with the plaintiff in such lawsuits.


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