Watervale Marine Co. v. DHS, No. 14-5203 (D.C. Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
The Coast Guard, after receiving whistleblower complaints, initiated an investigation against two foreign-flagged vessels. The Coast Guard subsequently ordered Customs to withhold departure clearance and the vessels were held for investigation for differing lengths of time, ranging from a couple of days to over a month. The vessels were released after appellants, the ship owners and operators, posted a bond and executed a security agreement. At issue in this appeal is whether the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security – acting through the Coast Guard – may impose certain conditions (nonfinancial in nature) upon the release of ships suspected of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. 1901(a)(4). Determining that the case is justiciable, the court concluded on the merits that the first sentence of section 1908(e) gives the Coast Guard the requisite authority. Section 1908(e) states that “[i]f any ship subject to the [Convention]…is liable for a fine or civil penalty...or if reasonable cause exists to believe that the ship...may be subject to a fine or civil penalty [Customs]...upon request of the Secretary [the Coast Guard]...shall refuse...clearance,” and as such it clearly provides authority in the Coast Guard to simply hold the ship in port until legal proceedings are completed. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.