By Mark Edward Nero
Santa Clarita, California-based Princess Cruise Lines has agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges stemming from its deliberate pollution of the seas and intentional acts to cover it up. Princess will pay a $40 million penalty – the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution – and plead guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess cruise ship.
The plea agreement was announced Dec. 1 by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.
Princess Cruises is a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company. As part of the plea agreement with Princess, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies – Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line NV, Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises – will be under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program for five years.
The compliance program will require independent audits by an outside entity and a court appointed monitor.
The US investigation was initiated after information was provided to the US Coast Guard by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency indicating that a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England.
The whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie.
According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations. The discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved about 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time as the discharge, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.
In addition to the use of a magic pipe to circumvent the oily water separator and oil content monitor required as pollution prevention equipment, the US investigation uncovered two other illegal practices which were found to have taken place on the Caribbean Princess as well as four other Princess ships – Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.
Also according to court papers, Princess has undertaken remedial measures in response to the government’s investigation, including upgrading the oily water separators and oil content monitors on every ship in its fleet and instituting many new policies.
If approved by the court, $10 million of the $40 million criminal penalty will be devoted to community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida; $1 million would be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters.