Federal Judge Stands Up for Czech Whistleblower in Pollution Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Jaroslav Hornof, a seaman from the Czech Republic, is like a real-life version of Jason Bourne.

He is not an assassin with long-term memory loss, but he was on a mission to uncover an explosive situation at sea. He secretly filmed a cargo ship pouring toxic oil into the water in violation of international law.

Just as the shipping company was about to cut a deal with authorities, a federal judge in Maine shut it down. She said Hornoff deserved a reward for putting himself at risk.

No Reward, No Deal

U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen said that watching the video was "like watching a Jason Bourne movie. You can tell watching that video that he is taking risks."

Hornof blew the whistle on MST Mineralien Schiffarht Spedition and Transport, a German shipping company that runs the MV Marguerita. Hornof, an engineer, boarded the ship in the Panama Canal in 2017.

He quickly became aware the ship was discharging oily water and falsifying documents to cover it up. Under international treaties, crews are supposed to remove oil before discharging bilge water.

When the crew denied it, Hornof made the video and alerted company representatives. He was detained for almost three months pending an investigation, and ultimately left his job.

$3.2 Million Fine

The company was indicted, then agreed to pay a $3.2 million fine. But the judge rejected the deal when she saw it did not include a reward for the whistle-blower.

"People are not going to take risks that Mr. Hornof took if they're going to be kicked in the shins at the end of the day," she said.

The case is proceeding to trial, although a reward will probably end it. According to reports, shipping companies routinely pay fines rather than go to trial.

Last year, the Department of Justice imposed more than $50 million in fines in such pollution cases. The largest -- $40 million -- was levied against Princess Cruise Lines.

In July, the government fined a Singaporean company $1 million for dumping oil at sea near Hawaii.

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