Ocean pollution for maritime activity has widespread impacts, and it can be harmful to many industries and ecosystems. It disrupts coral reefs, causes problems with the food chains and ecosystems, can render drinking water unsafe for humans to eat or consume and kills wildlife.
When ocean dumping happens, it often comes to light as a result of the insight provided by people known as whistleblowers. These whistleblowers are critical for the widespread enforcement of these rules, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships has an implementation tool known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.
APPS is the U.S. implementation arm for MARPOL, an international treaty created by the International Maritime Organization.
APPS makes it illegal for people to knowingly violate any of the regulations falling under APPS and MARPOL.
Violations of the APPS law include dumping of noxious liquid such as oil-based pollutants. This can also include keeping a false log book of all relevant discharges that a ship over a certain size must accurately maintain. In fact, the United States has become the most prominent enforcer of APPS largely due to whistleblower insight.
Who is Covered Under APPS?
All vessels at a port under U.S. jurisdiction or operating in the navigable waters of the U.S. and all U.S. flagged vessels fall under the laws for APPS. There are many regulations under this law that require vessels to keep proper log books, to avoid disposing any plastics into the ocean, and to never dispose certain pollutants within a certain distance from land or in special areas.
The U.S. government relies on information shared by insiders who know of illegal dumping and other violations to enforce APPS. More than 200 whistleblowers have reported details that have led to recovery through prosecution, and those whistleblowers received rewards for their role.
Whistleblowers and APPS Violations
When a whistleblower has inside knowledge about a company alleged violations of the APPS law, the whistleblower award clause under this law allows the government to pay any individual who furnishes information that is key for leading to the payment of the fine or penalty.
This amount cannot exceed one-half of the fine or penalty collected. As of 2016, however, the APPS program had distributed significant monies of over $30 million in whistleblower rewards for those who came forward with their information. One report from the Congressional Research Service produced by the Government Accountability Office found that 2,400 illegal discharge cases involving foreign flagships happened in just a 6-year time span.
The law permits federal courts, therefore, to grant rewards to people whose information about this behavior and actions are used to pursue fines. These incentives are provided at no cost to taxpayers. This law has been extremely effective since it was signed into law, and the United States is the number one enforcer of the International MARPOL as a result of whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers, in fact, were responsible for 76% of all successful cases between 1993 and 2017. These whistleblowers served an important role in notifying relevant authorities about illegal dumping behavior. It is estimated that up to 15% of ships every single day will knowingly pollute and bypass regulations. Given that there are thousands of ships at the sea at any given day, this has important repercussions for the health of our oceans.
Those who are courageous enough to bring attention to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships can receive substantial monetary compensation of up to 50% as a result. Governments are generally grateful to the services provided by whistleblowers who provide key information about instances of major violations.
There are many different approaches to the role that citizens can play in stopping environmental crime, but it is important for people with this information to know which laws apply, how to gather evidence, and when to retain an attorney to move forward with a case. In many cases there is no meaningful law enforcement agency that can stop environmental crimes, which is where citizens come in. These federal laws with provisions to reward whistleblowers for their brave act in exposing illegal dumping and other violations of this important ocean law.
What to Do If You Have Information About an APPS Violation
If you or someone you know has information involving violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, you should share this information with an attorney to learn more about your rights and to understand the role you might play in addressing these violations.