When the ship arrived in Singapore in November 1988, more than two years after leaving Philadelphia with its cargo, its ash had mysteriously disappeared. Both its crew and owners refused to say where it had gone.
Yesterday, the ship's captain, Arturo Fuentes, shed light on the mystery.
He said the crew used a small front-end loader to shove the ash, which was laced with small amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury, cyanide, chromium, dioxins and other chemicals, into the ocean.
Fuentes testified in federal court that between May and December 1988, the crew may have dumped as much as 7,500 tons into the Atlantic Ocean and the remaining 3,500 tons into the Indian Ocean. He acknowledged, however, that precisely where it wound up may never be known.
Earlier that year, at least 3,000 tons were dumped in Haiti.
During the six hours Fuentes testified, a large color photo taken on board the ship - showing the brownish ash pouring into the ocean - was propped in front of the jury.
Fuentes, 40, testified that he was repeatedly told to dump the ash into the ocean by one of his bosses, William P. Reilly, and was instructed to falsify ship records by another, John Patrick Dowd.
Dowd was president and Reilly was vice president of Coastal Carriers Inc., of Annapolis, Md., which acted as operator of the Khian Sea.
The two businessmen are being tried by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court here. Both Dowd and Reilly are charged with lying to a federal grand jury in Delaware. Reilly is also charged with lying to a federal judge in Philadelphia and with ocean dumping without a permit.
Attorneys for Dowd and Reilly deny the government's charges.
Joseph A. Hurley, Dowd's attorney, sought yesterday to discredit Fuentes' testimony by attempting to show discrepancies in the Honduran seaman's statements. Marc B. Tucker, Reilly's attorney, asked U.S. District Judge Roderick R. McKelvie to disallow as evidence ship-to-shore cables that are a key part of the government's case.
Fuentes said that during the 13 months he was captain, he was repeatedly instructed by Reilly to dump the ash into the ocean. He said Reilly boarded the vessel near Fort Pierce, Fla., in January 1988 and told the ship's officers they would be given a bonus of one month's pay and the crew would be paid $2 an hour overtime to dump the cargo at sea.
But before the dumping could begin, the ship was instructed by Reilly to go to the Philadelphia area, Fuentes said. From February to May 1988, the vessel was anchored at Big Stone Beach in the lower Delaware Bay. During this period, the federal Environmental Protection Agency sampled the ash and determined that it was nonhazardous under federal regulations. They found, however, that it contained small amounts of toxic chemicals.
Fuentes said Reilly boarded the ship at least three times while it was anchored near Philadelphia. He said that in May 1988, he was ordered to leave Delaware Bay without government permission. He was instructed to sail to the Cape Verde Islands and told to dump the ash into the ocean.
"From where did you get these instructions?" asked the federal prosecutor, Howard Stewart.
"From Mr. Reilly," Fuentes said.
"How did you get the instructions?"
"Personally, from him," the captain said.
Fuentes said that when he told Reilly that he was afraid of the implications of leaving the Delaware Bay without Coast Guard clearance, Reilly told him that he might face a "small fine," but that his company "would take care of it."
The captain said he met again with Reilly in Yugoslavia, when the ship was undergoing repairs. According to Fuentes, during one discussion, Reilly said the remainder of the ash would probably be dumped at sea. Fuentes said he was also told by Reilly to use the word ballast in future radio and telephone communications about the cargo, instead of ash.
Fuentes said that Dowd instructed him to falsify the ship's logbook to show that the vessel had taken a route in the Indian Ocean different from its actual route. He said Dowd also told him to say the ash had been disposed of in an unnamed country, if anyone asked where the cargo had gone.
During cross-examination, Hurley sought to show that Fuentes had altered his statements since he first testified to federal prosecutors in January 1992. For example, in earlier testimony, Fuentes acknowledged that he had not told federal officials that dumping had occurred in the Atlantic.
Hurley also tried to show that Fuentes was indebted to federal prosecutors
because they helped him obtain a visa to enter the United States in order to testify and because they paid his traveling expenses from Honduras.
The trial resumes today and is expected to continue through the end of this week, McKelvie said.