Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Santa Clarita-based Princess Cruises has agreed to pay a $40 million fine and plead guilty to felony charges stemming from its deliberate pollution of the seas and subsequent cover up, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Princess will pay the penalty — the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution — and plead guilty in Miami federal court to charges related to illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess cruise ship, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“It reflects very poorly on Princess’ culture and management,” Cruden said. “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.”

Princess is a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns and operates multiple cruise lines and collectively composes the world’s largest cruise company. As part of the plea agreement with Princess, cruise ships from eight of Carnival’s lines will be under a court-supervised environmental compliance program for five years.

Princess Cruises President Jan Swartz said in a statement that the company is “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.”

“The marine environment is incredibly important to us and we are using this experience to further improve our operations,” she said. “Princess Cruises stands committed to environmental practices that protect our oceans.”

The charges to which Princess will plead guilty concern the Caribbean Princess, which visited various ports in Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Virginia.

The investigation was initiated after information was provided to the U.S. Coast Guard by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, indicating that a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally dump oily waste off the coast of England.

The whistle-blowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie, the DOJ said.

The MCA shared evidence with the Coast Guard, including before and after photos of the bypass used to make the discharge and showing its disappearance. The Coast Guard conducted an examination of the Caribbean Princess upon its arrival in New York City on Sept. 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, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations. The discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved about 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

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, according to the DOJ.

Caribbean Princess used multiple methods over the course of time to pollute the seas. Prior to the installation of the bypass pipe used to make the discharge off the coast of England, a different unauthorized valve was used.

When the DOJ’s investigative team conducted a consensual boarding of the ship in Houston, Texas, on March 8, 2014, they found the valve that crew members had described. When it was removed by Princess at the department’s request, it was found to contain black oil, prosecutors said.

Photographs of some of the evidence provided by the whistle-blower and obtained by the government were filed in federal court in Miami along with related documents.

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; and $1 million will be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters.

Swartz said that over the past three years, the company has implemented a number of corrective measures to improve oversight and accountability.

“For example, we completely restructured our entire fleet operations organization including new leadership,” she said. “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.”

–City News Service 

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