A Tiptree Marine product tanker has spent more than three weeks stuck at berth in Beaumont, Texas, after being greeted by a US Coast Guard port-state-control team when it called early this month.

The pollution-related detention comes as the shipowning subsidiary of Nasdaq-listed insurance and investment company Tiptree seemingly nears the end of an apparent sell-off of its entire five-ship fleet.

Tiptree Marine disposed of two supramax bulkers and a kamsarmax in the second quarter. On 27 September, TradeWinds reported that it had committed one of its two tankers for sale as well to investors led by Norway’s ADS Maritime Holding, with Peter Georgiopoulos’ United Overseas Group as commercial manager.

Industry sources with knowledge of the matter told TradeWinds that the crew of the remaining uncommitted ship — the 46,100-dwt MR product tanker Swift Winchester (built 2009) — has been accused of operating a so-called “magic pipe”, or a device to dispose of bilge water at sea and bypass an oil-water separator or oil sensors.

Class documents publicly available confirm that the ship was inspected on 7 September and faulted for a long list of deficiencies, including Marpol Annex 1 violations. That is the section of the relevant International Maritime Organization convention cited in magic pipe cases.

A Tiptree official reached by phone agreed to speak about the case but has not been available again following brief contact.

AIS records from VesselsValue show that the ship called at Port Arthur in eastern Texas on 3 September in ballast and proceeded to neighbouring Beaumont, where it remains.

No legal records of any US Marpol Annex 1 case involving the ship are available. One US legal source with frequent insight into such cases told TradeWinds that prosecutions normally only become visible once US prosecutors have already secured a guilty plea.

Magic pipe legal cases are typically built on the testimony of engine room crew that a chief engineer or other superior ordered them to fabricate such an apparatus and use it on the high seas. Crew members who provide this information to port state control can share in the proceeds of fines from the shipowner, which can run into millions of dollars.

The Swift Winchester is classed by Lloyd’s Register and insured by the Swedish Club.

SwiftBulk, an operating name of Tiptree Marine, was conceived as a distressed asset play by chief executive Stefanos Kasselakis, and won funding four years ago from Nasdaq-listed Tiptree to diversify the investment of its insurance premium revenues.

It acquired three bulkers in 2018 — the 82,100-dwt Thestelia K (built 2009), 55,800-dwt Osios David (built 2012) and 55,600-dwt Stilianos K (built 2010). Then, the following year, it gained two tankers —the 46,100-dwt Swift Omaha (built 2010) and Swift Winchester.

The investment was well timed. Tiptree paid $51.9m for the bulkers and sold them this year for $67.7m after trading them in good markets.

On the tanker side, it paid a reported $19m for the Swift Winchester and $18.7m for the Swift Omaha.

ADS did not report an acquisition price for the Swift Omaha, to be renamed UOG Oslo. But data provider VesselsValue calculates that it is currently worth $26.54m.