California-based cruise line Princess Cruises, part of Carnival Corporation, was sentenced to pay a USD 40 million penalty related to illegal dumping overboard of oil contaminated waste and falsification of official logs in order to conceal the discharges.
Imposed by US District Judge Patricia A. Seitz in Miami on April 19, the sentence is the largest-ever for crimes involving deliberate vessel pollution, the Department of Justice informed.
A newly-hired British engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported the illegal discharges to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which in turn provided the evidence to the US Coast Guard.
He informed that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on August 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England without the use of required pollution prevention equipment. The evidence gathered by the whistleblower, including photographs of the magic pipe, led to an inspection of the cruise ship both in England and then when it reached New York on September 14, 2013.
During each of the separate inspections certain crew members concealed the illegal activity by lying to the authorities in accordance with orders they had received from Caribbean Princess engineering officers.
The sentence imposed by Judge Seitz also requires that Princess remain on probation for a period of five years during which time all of the related Carnival cruise ship companies trading in the US will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan that includes independent audits by an outside company and oversight by a court appointed monitor.
As a result of the government’s investigation, Princess has already taken various corrective actions, including upgrading the oily water separators and oil content monitors on every ship in its fleet and instituting many new policies, the Department of Justice said.
According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations. The August 2013 discharge some 23-miles off the coast of England involved around 4,227 gallons within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time as the discharge, engineers ran clean seawater through the ship’s monitoring equipment in order to conceal the criminal conduct and create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.
The case against Princess included illegal practices which were found to have taken place on five Princess ships – Caribbean Princess, Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.
One practice was to open a salt water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. The purpose was to prevent the oil content monitor from going into alarm mode and stopping the overboard discharge. This was done routinely on the Caribbean Princess in 2012 and 2013. 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, and then pumped overboard anytime the ship was more than four nautical miles from land. None of the discharges were recorded in the oil record books that are required to be maintained on board the ships.
“These violations of law were serious, longstanding and designed to conceal illegal discharges,” Jeffrey H. Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General, said.