Seafood company fined for not having spill insurance

The state Department of Ecology issued a $12,654 fine to Seattle-based East West Seafoods after the company operated in Washington waters for three years without oil spill insurance coverage. The same firm was fined earlier for problems when it was operating on Willapa Bay and the state says that fine has not been paid.

In 2008, the department ordered company owner Christos Tsabouris to purchase coverage while cleaning up oil discharge from his boat, the Pacific Producer, in Willapa Bay.

Tsabouris did purchase the insurance, but didn’t renew the policy when it lapsed in 2009. He purchased new insurance for the vessel last June after the Department of Ecology discovered the violation.

Had the Pacific Producer leaked oil during the time it was uninsured, state taxpayers would have footed the cleanup bill, said Curt Hart, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology.

“When these companies don’t have coverage, they’re not ready strategically or monetarily to clean up a large spill,” Hart said. “Unless the company has very deep pockets, the cost will end up on the taxpayers.”

Cleaning up an oil spill can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000 depending on the size, Hart said. Department of Ecology officials estimate that a large spill could cost the state economy about $10.8 billion when disruptions to shipping, tourism, recreation, fishing and wildlife are factored in.

East West Seafoods still owes the state $6,600 in fines and costs for the 2008 leak.

Department of Ecology officials are “cautiously optimistic” that Tsabouris will pay the fines, Hart said. Insurance violations are rare, but about 80 percent of offenders pay their fines in a timely fashion.

State laws requiring oil spill insurance for vessels larger that 300 tons have been in place since 1991 and apply to about 1,600 ships operating in the Puget Sound and along Washington’s coast.

Department officials have been unable to reach Tsabouris and East West Seafoods since issuing the fines. Letters sent to the Seattle address have been marked returned-to-sender. Hart said they are unsure of whether the vessel is still operating in Washington waters.

“In the maritime world, sometimes it’s difficult to track people down,” Hart said. “It’s not that unusual for someone to go off the map.”