A British marine engineer has been awarded $1 million by US courts for blowing the whistle on Princess Cruises for illegally pumping thousands of gallons of oily waste into the sea.
Christopher Keays was 27 and working as the third assistant engineer on the Caribbean Princess in 2013 when he discovered that a “magic pipe” was being used to discharge thousands of gallons of the waste into British waters.
Princess Cruises, part of the Carnival Corporation, has been fined $40 million (£31 million) after pleading guilty to polluting the sea illegally and trying to cover it up. It is the largest criminal penalty imposed for deliberate pollution by a vessel.
A quarter of the fine is earmarked for maritime conservation, with at least $1 million going to British projects. The company has to pay Keays’s reward on top of the fine.
The engineer from Glasgow filmed and photographed the secret pipe, the tanks containing the oily bilge water, and computers that were manipulated to show false discharge readings.
When the ship docked in Southampton in August 2013, Keays resigned and presented his evidence to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which handed it to the US coast guard before the ship arrived back in America.
In one incident in August 2013 more than 4,000 gallons of waste was discharged 23 miles off the east coast of England. The ship’s engineers then flushed seawater through pollution-prevention equipment to mask the illegal discharge.
Investigators found that the 3,192-passenger Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges since 2005, and that once discovered senior crew ordered a cover-up, which included removing the “magic pipe”.
The practice was found to have been common on four other ships in the company’s fleet.
Keays said in a letter to the US Department of Justice: “Thinking back, I had not considered the implications of my response and that my career may be over before it barely started.
“The disregard for lawful practice and pollution of the sea without remorse left me with a genuine sadness that I was at the beginning of my career in an industry so irresponsible.”
Rear Admiral Scott Buschman, Commander of the US Coast Guard Seventh District, told the district court in Miami: “Without the courageous act of a junior crew member to alert authorities to these criminal behaviours of deliberately dumping oil at sea, the global environmental damage caused by the Princess fleet could have been much worse.
“The selflessness of this individual exposed five different ships that embraced a culture of shortcuts.”
The illegal dumping was described in US court documents seen by The Times as being financially motivated.
The chief engineer on Caribbean Princess, who ordered the dumping off the coast of England, told lower-ranking officers that properly offloading waste in port cost too much.
Princess Cruises said: “We are extremely disappointed about the inexcusable actions of our employees who violated our policies and environmental law. We have taken additional steps to ensure we meet or exceed all environmental requirements.”
The US federal court also ordered that 78 other ships in Carnival Corporation’s fleet be subject to a five-year environmental compliance programme.
Keays, who now works in Spain refitting boats, said: “It took a long time for the case to build. It’s great that it’s closed now and that action is being taken to punish a company that turned a blind eye for so long.”