Royal Caribbean agrees to pay $18M fine for dumping waste

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WASHINGTON -- Royal Caribbean Cruises agreed to pay a record $18 million fine for dumping oil-contaminated waste and other hazardous chemicals in the waters of Miami; San Juan, Puerto Rico; New York; Los Angeles; Anchorage, Alaska, and St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., and trying to cover it up by lying to the Coast Guard.

The Justice Department said the fine will be the largest ever paid by a cruise line for polluting U.S. waters, once the plea agreement is approved by federal courts in those jurisdictions, each of which will get a portion of the money.

The settlement comes just 13 months after the company agreed to pay a $9 million fine, the previous record, for similar violations in Miami and Puerto Rico.

In addition to the waste oil, pollutants that were dumped included hazardous chemicals from photo-processing equipment, dry cleaning shops and printing presses, in what the DOJ termed a "fleet-wide conspiracy."

"They dumped everywhere," Attorney General Janet Reno said. "They didn't care."

Some of the illegal activities occurred even as other crew members on board wore Save the Waves buttons, and falsification of records was so pervasive that some employees referred to the oil record book carried on each ship as "The Fairy Tale Book," DOJ officials said.

The DOJ said the line continued its illegal dumping and falsification of records after it was told in October 1994 that the government had begun an investigation. Most of the offenses occurred before 1997.

The government's high-profile press conference, intended in part to send a message to the cruise industry, included the release of a Coast Guard surveillance videotape that shows Royal Caribbean ships dumping waste oil, and a before-and-after video showing the destruction of a secret bypass pipe one ship used for the discharges.

DOJ officials said an investigation is continuing into the potential responsibility of individuals within the company.

Royal Caribbean International president Jack Williams blamed most the violations on "a group of our employees [who] knowingly violated environmental laws and our company policy" and on "a lapse in our enforcement efforts -- not a lapse in our corporate conscience or our commitment to protecting the ocean."

The company also said it learned "important lessons" from the investigation, has assigned an environmental officer to each ship and has taken other steps to "build the most environmentally responsible fleet and the most environmentally sensitive workforce in the industry."

Royal Caribbean's waste disposal practices will be under the supervision of the courts for five years.

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