Princess Cruises will pay a $40 million fine and plead
guilty to seven felony counts stemming from a crew intentionally polluting
water, then trying to cover it up.
The fine resulted from an extensive government investigation
that uncovered an elaborate scheme to discharge oily waste into the sea and
then whitewash the evidence, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said.
The $40 million criminal penalty, the largest-ever involving
deliberate vessel pollution, is being assessed on the company for charges
related to illegal dumping from the 3,192-passenger Caribbean Princess.
In a statement, Princess said, "We discovered that some
of our employees intentionally violated our policies and broke environmental
law when they bypassed our bilge water treatment system and discharged
untreated bilge water into the ocean. ... We believe these actions were taken
to save time and that those involved thought they were saving the company
money, but since they violated our policies and the law, it was not savings we
incentivized, directed nor approved."
The company added: "The senior officers involved have
The U.S. government launched an investigation into the
matter after it was notified by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency
about an engineer on the Caribbean Princess who had illegally discharged oily
waste off the coast of England on Aug. 23, 2013.
According to the DOJ, the whistleblowing engineer quit when
the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first
engineer then ordered a cover-up, including removal of the pipe used to
discharge the oily waste, and directed subordinates to lie.
British maritime authorities shared with the U.S. Coast
Guard before-and-after photos of the bypass pipe used for the oily discharge,
proving its disappearance. In response, the Coast Guard conducted an
examination of the Caribbean Princess when it arrived in New York on Sept. 14,
According to court papers cited by the DOJ, the Caribbean
Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since
2005, one year after the ship entered service. The discharge incident on Aug.
26, 2013 involved approximately 4,227 gallons of oily waste 23 miles off the
coast of England. At that time, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater
through the ship's overboard equipment in order to create a false digital
record for a legitimate discharge.
The investigation also uncovered two other illegal practices
that were taking place on the Caribbean Princess and four other Princess ships:
Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess. One was to
open a salt-water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily-water
separator and oil-content monitor in order to prevent the oil content monitor
from alarming and stopping the overboard discharge, something that was done on
the Caribbean Princess in 2012 and 2013, according to the DOJ.
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 was truthfully
recorded in the oil record book as required.
Princess said the company has taken a number of steps to
correct all of these actions over the past three years.
"We completely restructured our fleet operations
department including hiring new leadership," the company stated. "We
have also increased the scope and frequency of our environmental compliance
training and have invested millions of dollars to upgrade our equipment to the
highest international standard."
For example, the DOJ said Princess has worked to upgrade the
oily-water separators and oil-content monitors on every ship in its fleet.
"We are deeply disappointed that our employees
independently took these actions," Princess said in an online statement. "And
it became apparent through the investigation that although we had policies and
procedures in place, oversight of environmental compliance was inadequate."
The plea agreement was announced Thursday by Assistant
Attorney General John Cruden for the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources
Division and by U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer for the Southern District of
Florida in Miami.
As part of the plea deal, Princess' parent company, Carnival
Corp., will be under a court-supervised environmental compliance program for
five years, requiring independent audits of its vessels by an outside entity
and by a court-appointed monitor.
"Today's case should send a powerful message to other
companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance
policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals,
marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive," Ferrer said.
Princess said that after it learned of the illegal activity,
the cruise line fired the Caribbean Princess' chief engineer and a first
In addition, in early 2014, Carnival Corp. proactively
instituted a management reorganization that created the position of chief
maritime officer, which was filled by former U.S. Navy vice admiral William
Burke. His role has C-suite responsibility accountable for developing,
maintaining and oversight of health, environmental, safety and security
policies and compliance.
At the brand level, Princess Cruises has new fleet
operations and technical oversight by an executive vice president for fleet
operations., a role filled by former Coast Guard rear admiral Keith Taylor.