Ships on the world's oceans must abide by strict rules when it comes to handling waste so as not to damage the increasingly fragile marine environment.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced Princess Cuise Lines, part of the Carnival Cruise Lines corporate family, will plead guilty to seven felony charges of deliberate pollution and cover-up. It will also pay a $40 million fine, the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution.
The charges primarily focus on one ship, the Caribbean Princess, which routinely visits Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Virginia.
DOJ officials say that in 2013, a newly-hired engineer aboard the vessel became aware that a so-called “magic pipe” was used to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England. The engineer is said to have quit his job and left the ship when it docked in Southampton, reporting what he had spoken to both the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
U.S. officials say senior officers aboard the Caribbean Princess then ordered a cover-up that included the removal of the magic pipe and ordering subordinates to lie about it. In the investigation that followed, U.S. officials determined that the ship had been using the magic pipe to make illegal discharges since 2005, a year after it went into service. They further alleged the ship's officers took deliberate steps to conceal their activity.
“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden. “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better.”
Officials say a follow-up investigation found two other illegal practices on board the Caribbean Princess and four other ships – Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess, and Golden Princess. The ships were found to have bypassed monitoring systems designed to stop the flow of oily water discharges.
DOJ says the plea agreement also requires all eight companies under the Carnival Cruise Line umbrella to submit to a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for the next five years. That program will require independent auditors to monitor all ships' compliance.