Calling Carnival Corporation a “criminal defendant,” United States Federal District Judge Patricia Seitz threatened to send the  “members of Carnival’s executive committee” to a “detention center for a couple of days” for violation of the terms of its probation for environmental crimes, according to the Miami Herald.  The newspaper also reported that the Court at a hearing yesterday threatened to temporarily block cruise ships operated by Carnival Corporation from calling on U.S. ports.

In December of 2016, Judge Seitz placed Carnival Corporation on probation and fined it a record $40,000,000 for widespread pollution and obstruction of justice. Carnival has a long history of getting caught committing environmental crimes dating back to 2002 when it pled guilty to numerous felonies for discharging oily waste into the sea. The U.S. Government leveled a $18,000,000 fine and placed Carnival on probation back at that time.  In both 2002 and 2016, Carnival pled guilty of routinely falsifying its oil record books in order to conceal its illegal discharge of oil into the seas.

As part of the felony plea agreement in 2016, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies (Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line N.V., Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises) were placed under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for five years. An outside entity and a court appointed monitor independently audited the ECP.

The Miami Herald reported that “court filings showed that Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary cruise lines have sought to avoid unfavorable findings by preparing ships in advance of court-ordered audits, falsified records, dumped plastic garbage into the ocean and illegally discharged gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The company also has tried to lobby the U.S. Coast Guard through a back channel to change the terms of the settlement, prosecutors allege. The company has acknowledged these incidents.”

On March 8, 2019, the Office of Probation filed a motion to revoke probation on the grounds that the cruise corporation implemented a “brazen and secret” scheme to send “SWAT teams” to the cruise ships to “scrub” them before the third party auditors performed their compliance inspections. These illegal pre-audit programs were carried out to avoid adverse audits findings and violations of probation, even after the Court ordered them to stop. Emails between HAL and Princess revealed that even though the Carnival subsidiaries knew that the Department of Justice prohibited them from conducting “Pre-TPA audit ship visits,” they continued doing so, in criminal contempt of Court. They even called them “Environmental Excellence Program Visits.”

The government also brought to the Court’s attention that the cruise corporation continued to fail to establish a senior corporate officer with authority and responsibility for environmental compliance as required by the environmental compliance plan.

A third grounds for revoking probation was that Carnival-owned ships falsified training records aboard the Diamond Princess and the Costa Luninosa. The government also informed the Court that the following ships violated environmental laws while Carnival Corporation was under court-supervised probation:

  • Princess’ Sun Princess – an engineer falsified maintenance records in June 2017;
  • HAL’s Nieuw Amsterdam had been continuously discharging gray water for several years in Alaska (as of June 2017) and knowingly failed to notify the state of Alaska;
  • Carnival Valor – engineering team falsified an oil record book regarding the oily water separator system in October 2017;
  • HAL’s Westerdam – a second engineer falsified maintenance records involving the oil content monitoring system in September 2018;
  • Holland America’s Westerdam – illegally dumped 26,000 gallons of gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska on September 11, 2018;
  • Carnival Conquest illegally dumped 66,000 gallons of ballast water in November 2018 (in Bahamian archipelagic waters where Carnival ships previously made other unlawful discharges); the ship’s engineer offered to falsify records to make it look like the dump happened at open sea; and
  • Princess’ Sea Princess (December 2017) and Ruby Princess (February 2018), Carnival Dream (August 2018), and Carnival Elation (December 2018) dumped plastic overboard.

The government informed Judge Seitz that, regarding the Carnival Elation, Carnival knowingly and deliberately discharged plastic which was a significant violation of probation.

Regarding the Sea Princess, the auditor witnessed that the “food waste chute had several unauthorized items in the food waste that is going down the chute and overboard, items such as plastic straws, corn on the cob holders, wooden stir sticks, plastic tea bag packages, and plastic knives. The unauthorized waste was not being segregated at the early stage of the collecting the food waste. This was noted during the galley inspection as it was found that there is plastic straws, paper, wood stir sticks and rubber bands in the pulpers.”

Regarding the Ruby Princess, a compliance auditor “witnessed 55-gallon containers (which) held several unauthorized items destined to go down the waste chute and overboard. These items were plastic straws, plastic corn on the cob holders, wooden stir sticks, toothpicks, wooden steak identifiers, paper, paper clips and aluminum foil wrappers.”

Regarding the Carnival Dream, the auditor noted that the following items were “ready to be discharged down the chute and then overboard while at sea.  These items are but not limited to: aluminum bottle caps, broken plastic cups, cotton swabs (Q-tips), emery cloth, plastic straws, napkins, paper and umbrellas for drinks.”

Last year, we reported that four Holland America Line (HAL) cruise ships and two Princess Cruises ships violated Alaska’s air quality standards throughout the cruise season’s summer months (June-August) in Alaska.  The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) cited HAL’s Eurodam, Westerdam, Amsterdam, and Nieuw Amsterdam and Princess’ Emerald Princess and Golden Princess.  The DEC also found that nine cruise ships operated by Carnival Corp. brands violated Alaska’s water quality standards. Five Princess cruise ships violated water quality standards, including the Emerald Princess, Island Princess, Golden Princess, Ruby Princess and Star Princess. The DEC also issued wastewater discharge violations to HAL’s Eurodam, Noordam, and Voledam, as well as Seabourn Cruise Line’s Sojourn.

We reported that Princess Cruises’ Star Princess discharged sludge from its exhaust system scrubbers last year in the port of Ketchikan, as originally reported by  KRBD Community Radio.  Princess denied the reports, claiming that “our experts believe what was viewed and photographed is most likely sea foam discolored by natural microorganisms such as algae in the seawater, which is commonly experienced in northern climates in the summer season.”

I wrote last fall that the air and water violations by HAL and Princess Cruises appeared to be in direct violation of the guilty plea agreement where Carnival Corp. promised not to commit further violations of international, federal, state, and local environmental laws. (There is no indication that these air or water violations in Alaska or the scrubber discharges were brought to the Court’s attention).

Judge Seitz stated at the hearing yesterday, according to the Miami Herald, that Carnival “right now it is a criminal defendant and this is not the first time nor is it the second time.” The Court characterized the last fine ($40,000,000) to be a “drop in the bucket.”

The Court ordered the parties to confer and file, by April 22, 2019, agreed dates to appear at a “Revocation Hearing” (to be held by June 24, 2019) at which time the Court will decide whether Carnival violated the terms of  its probation and how it should be further punished. The Court suggested that Carnival’s chairman, Micky Arison, and president, Donald Arnold, as well as Holland America executives Stein Kruse, Keith Taylor and retired Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio and Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy attend the June hearing.

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Photo credit: Middle – Carnival Dream – Longbowe at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons/wikimedia; bottom – scrubber sludge – Star Princess – City of Ketchikan.