Princess Cruises agreed to pay a record penalty of $40 million for illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from Caribbean Princess.
The line has agreed to plead guilty to seven charges stemming from “deliberate pollution of the seas and intentional acts to cover it up”.
The line will pay the fine – the largest criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution – and plead guilty to the charges.
The plea agreement was announced by US attorney Wifredo Ferrer for the southern district of Florida in Miami and assistant attorney general John Cruden for the US Department of Justice’s environment and natural resources division.
As part of the agreement with Princess, cruise ships from eight Carnival Corporation companies, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Seabourn and AIDA Cruises, will be under a court supervised environmental compliance programme for five years.
This will include independent audits by an outside entity and a court appointed monitor.
The investigation was triggered after information was provided to the US Coast Guard by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency indicating that a newly hired engineer on Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on August 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England.
The whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton.
The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie, according to the DoJ.
The MCA shared evidence with the US Coast Guard, including before and after photos of the bypass used to make the discharge and showing its disappearance.
The US Coast Guard conducted an examination of the Caribbean Princess upon its arrival in New York City on September 14, 2013, during which certain crew members continued to lie in accordance with orders they had received from Princess employees.
According to papers filed in court, Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations.
A discharge on August 26, 2013, involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the English coast.
At the same time as the discharge, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.
Caribbean Princess used multiple methods over the course of time to pollute the seas. Prior to the installation of a bypass pipe used to make the discharge off the coast of England, a different unauthorised valve was used, the US DoJ said.
The US investigation uncovered two other illegal practices which were found to have taken place on the Caribbean Princess as well as four other Princess ships – Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.
Princess has undertaken remedial measures in response to the government’s investigation, including upgrading oily water separators and oil content monitors on every ship in its fleet and instituting many new policies.
If approved by the court, $10 million of the $40 million criminal penalty will be devoted to community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida; $1 million will be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in UK waters.
Ferrer said: “The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida.
“Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm.
“Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the US 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.”
Cruden added: “The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship.
“It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better.
“Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well.”
Jeremy Smart, head of enforcement at the UK MCA said: “This shows just how well the UK and US can work together on these kind of cases.
“It also sends a clear message to the industry that this kind of pollution practice will not be tolerated anywhere in the world. It also shows that we will always take any information we are given by those who report such practices to us very seriously and will act upon it.”
Princess Cruises said in a statement: “We 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.
“Although we had policies and procedures in place, it became apparent they were not fully effective. We are very sorry that this happened and have taken additional steps to ensure we meet or exceed all environmental requirements.”
The line added that over the last three years, it has implemented corrective measures to improve “oversight and accountability.”
“For example, we completely restructured our entire fleet operations organisation including new leadership.
“We also increased the scope and frequency of our training, and proactively invested millions of dollars to upgrade our equipment to new ship standards to ensure compliance with all environmental regulations.”