One of the most important and effective tools to uncover and prevent marine pollution is the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). Violations of APPS include discharges above the permitted level of oil and oily water; noxious liquid substances; garbage; and emissions of certain air pollutants. APPS includes a key whistleblower provision which permits federal courts to grant rewards of up to 50% of the total fines to whistleblowers whose disclosures regarding pollution on the high seas result in a successful prosecution.
Whistleblowers are those who bravely come forward with information about fraud, corruption, and other criminal behavior. Despite enormous personal and professional risks, they bring to light evidence that would otherwise remain hidden.
APPS and other wildlife protection laws allow non-U.S. citizens to serve as whistleblowers. These laws cover violations of international conventions, such as MARPOL and CITES, that occur outside the U.S. APPS applies to all U.S.-flagged vessels and to all vessels, including foreign-flagged vessels, at the port under U.S. jurisdiction or operating in the navigable waters of the United States. Implementing MARPOL, an international treaty developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), APPS makes it a crime for any person to knowingly violate MARPOL, APPS, or regulations promulgated under APPS.
Those who are brave enough to draw attention to violations of APPS or MARPOL – whether a U.S. citizen or a foreign national – can be compensated with up to 50% of the monetary penalties that the U.S. government receives from the guilty parties. The average reward granted to whistleblowers as a result of successful APPS prosecutions was 28.8% of the total amount of funds collected by the government. The U.S. government has awarded 205 whistleblowers a sum of approximately $33 million in the most recent 100 prosecutions under APPS.
Whistleblowers are the key to preventing illegal oil and waste pollution in our oceans. Since ships that ignore and bypass environmental regulations do so far away from official oversight and in international waters, whistleblowers are a crucial component for detecting and preventing illegal pollution. The U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly emphasized both the importance of vigorously prosecuting marine polluters and the importance of whistleblowers in obtaining evidence of marine pollution.
This law has been incredibly effective since it was signed into law. The U.S. is the number one enforcer of MARPOL because of whistleblowers. In an analysis of 100 recent Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) prosecutions available on Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), court records reveal that whistleblowers were responsible for 76% of all successful cases (from 1993 to 2017). The law has a demonstrated effectiveness over this 24-year span.
The National Whistleblower Center produced a comprehensive study on the success of Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships/ MARPOL.
If you need additional help or want to contact an attorney, please fill out a confidential intake form. You can also visit the NWC Legal Assistance Program page.
You can also view key whistleblower ocean pollution cases.
For additional information an online resource for the for the Whistleblower handbook is available free of charge. It is indexed to the specific rules and contains links to the relevant statutes and key whistleblower Maritime Laws. The resource can be found here.