Multiple news sources are reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will fine Princess Cruises a record $40,000,000 for polluting the seas and trying to cover it up. Princess Cruises will plead guilty to seven felony charges of illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess cruise ship which sailed to numerous U.S. states (Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and two territories (U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico).

According to the DOJ, the Caribbean Princess had been illegally discharging oil since 2005 using bypass equipment, sometimes called a “magic pipe,” to circumvent pollution-prevention equipment that separates oil and monitors oil levels in the ship’s water.

We previously mentioned that the DOJ joined an investigation being conducted by the U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) which had been initiated in August 2013.

You can read the DOJ statement here: Princess Cruise Lines To Pay Largest-Ever Criminal Penalty For Caribbean PrincessDeliberate Vessel Pollution.

The DOJ says that “in addition to the use of a magic pipe to circumvent the oily water separator and oil content monitor required pollution prevention equipment, the U.S. 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. One practice was to open a salt water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. The purpose was to prevent the oil content monitor from otherwise alarming and stopping the overboard discharge. This was done routinely on the Caribbean Princess in 2012 and 2013. The second practice involved discharges of oily bilge water originating from the overflow of graywater tanks into the machinery space bilges. This waste was pumped back into the graywater system rather than being processed as oily bilge waste. Neither of these practices were truthfully recorded in the oil record book as required. All of the bypassing took place through the graywater system which was discharged when the ship was more than four nautical miles from land. As a result, discharges within U.S. waters were likely.”

U.S. investigators began to probe the ship’s actions after a newly hired engineer reported an illegal dump of over 4,000 gallons of oily waste off the coast of England in August 2013 to the British MCA. The whistleblowing engineer then quit his job. Two other senior ship engineers then ordered a cover-up, called on other crew members to lie and sought to remove the “magic pipe.”

According to the DOJ, following an official investigation, “the chief engineer held a sham meeting in the engine control room to pretend to look into the allegations while holding up a sign stating: “LA is listening.” The engineers present understood that anything said might be heard by those at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California, because the engine control room contained a recording device intended to monitor conversations in the event of an incident.”

The DOJ indicated that a perceived motive for the environmental crimes was financial – “the chief engineer that ordered the dumping off the coast of England told subordinate engineers that it cost too much to properly offload the waste in port and that the shore-side superintendent who he reported to would not want to pay the expense.”

The DOJ continued: “Princess engineers on the Caribbean Princess indicated that the chief engineer responsible for the discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, was known as “braccino corto” (a person with short arms), an Italian expression for a cheap person whose arms are too short to reach his wallet. Some expressed the same opinion of the shore-side superintendent.”

As part of the felony plea agreement, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies (Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line N.V., Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises) will be placed under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for five years. An outside entity and a court appointed monitor will independently audit the ECP.

The DOJ statement also says that “the conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida.”  The DOJ stated “the pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship. It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management.”

Although $40,000,000 is the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution against a single cruise line, many other other cruise lines have been fined many millions of dollars and forced to plead guilty to felonies including obstruction of justice. The actions of Princess Cruises seem to be déjà vu of the widespread oily discharges and use of by-pass pipes in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

In 2002, Carnival pled guilty to numerous felonies for discharging oily waste into the sea. Carnival reportedly routinely falsified its oil record books in order to conceal its illegal practices. The U.S. Government leveled a $18,000,000 fine and placed Carnival on probation.

In 2002, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) also pled guilty to a felony of routinely circumventing the oily water separator, dumping oily bilge directly into the ocean on a regular basis, and falsifying its record keeping. NCL admitted that it engaged in a practice of “systematically lying to the United States Coast Guard over a period of years.” The DOJ issued a fine of only $1,500,000, primarily because NCL admitted its wrongdoing rather than lying and scheming like Carnival.

Starting in the In the late 1990’s, the U.S. Coast Guard caught Royal Caribbean engaged in widespread dumping of oil and chemicals. The DOJ fined the cruise line $1,000,000. After Royal Caribbean was caught repeatedly illegally dumping oily discharges and chemicals and lying about it, the DOJ fined it $8,000,000 and then $18,000,000 for a total of $27,000,000.

Cruise PollutionIn 1998, Holland America Line was fined $2,000,000 after it was caught discharging oily water without the use of an oil-water separator.

Despite heavy marketing, the cruise industry has struggled with its environmental image over the years. Carnival-owned lines have battled the state of Alaska over its strict waste water laws and have been fined for exceeding the permitted level of ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc. Princess Cruises was fined, for example, when the Golden Princess dumped 66,000 gallons of chlorinated water into Glacier Bay in Alaska in early 2013. Carnival and Princess Cruises have traditionally fared poorly in environmental practices according to the environmental non-profit organization Friends of the Earth (FOE) which assigned these lines a “D” and a “C” respectively in the last FOE environmental report card (other Carnival brands, Costa Cruises and P&O Cruises, flunked the report card). Whether throwing garbage bags overboard, or dropping anchors on reefs, or belching smoke from high sulfur content bunker fuel into the air, or pulverizing and dredging reefs and filling native mangroves in the Caribbean islands to make way for increasingly gigantic cruise ships, the cruise lines have been viewed by many as enemies of the environment.

Princess responded to the DOJ statement with a multi-media presentation which can be viewed here, and which includes a YouTube video statement by its president, Jan Swartz (which you can see below).

Interested in this issue? Read the New York Times article from 1999: Sovereign Lands: A Special Report; Gaps in Sea Laws Shield Pollution By Cruise Lines.

Top: Caribbean Princess (Bar Harbor, Maine) photo credit: Yankeesman312 – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.

Middle: Carnival Elation – Stop Polluting Cruise Ships Blogspot

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December 1, 2016 Update: The Miami Herald picks up the news and quotes Cruise Law News: Carnival-owned ship caught in pollution scheme. Now they’re paying $40 million for it.

The video of the illegal “magic pipe” which Princess Cruises used to by-pass the oil-water separator device and dump oil into the oceans is at the bottom, credit to McClatchey News Services / Miami Herald.

December 4, 2016 Update: Princess Cruises Pollution Cover-Up: What Did the Executives Know?