Cruise Line To Pay Record $40M For Deliberately Dumping Oil Into Ocean

Image courtesy of Princess Cruise Line

Purposefully dumping large quantities of oil into the ocean is not okay. Trying to cover up those actions is also frowned upon. Yet, it appears that some employees of Princess Cruise Lines did just that, and now the subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines must pay the largest-ever criminal penalty for intentionally polluting the ocean: $40 million. 

The U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida, along with the Department of Justice’s Environment and National Resources Division announced the stiff penalty Thursday after Princess Cruise Lines agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges stemming from allegations that employees illegally dumped oil into the ocean and deliberately worked to covered it up.

The plea and subsequent fine are the result of an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

According to the DOJ announcement, the MCA received information from a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess in Aug. 2013 that crew members were using a so-called “magic pipe” to discharge more than 4,200 gallons of oil waste off the coast of England.

While the oil was being illegally discharged, engineers allegedly ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record of a legitimate discharge.

When the MCA investigation began, the agency determined that the ship’s chief engineer and senior first engineer allegedly ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie.

However, the MCA collected evidence of the illegal acts through photos depicting the bypass used to make the discharge and later photos that showed the pipe was missing. This evidence was then shared with the U.S. Coast Guard, which conducted an examination of the ship when it arrived in New York on Sept. 14, 2013.

The DOJ alleges that the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through the magic pipe since at least 2005 using several different methods. Prosecutors claim that prior to using the magic pipe, a different unauthorized valve was employed.

The ship has a history of visiting several U.S. ports in New Jersey, New York, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Virginia.

In addition to paying a $40 million fine — of which $10 million will be devoted to community service projects — cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, and AIDA Cruises will be under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program for five years.

Princess Cruise Line officials said in a statement Thursday that they are “extremely disappointed about the inexcusable actions of our employees who violated our policies and environmental law when they bypassed our bilge water treatment system and discharged untreated bilge water into the ocean.”

The company says that when it became aware of the issue, it launched its own investigation, finding similar practices on other ships.

“Although we had policies and procedures in place, it became apparent they were not fully effective,” the company said, noting that it had taken step to correct issues over the last three years. “We are very sorry that this happened and have taken additional steps to ensure we meet or exceed all environmental requirements.”

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