Cruising for a bruising: Carnival owned cruise line fined $40mn for polluting ocean

The Carnival cruise ship Ecstasy leaves the port in Miami, Florida © Joe Skipper
The largest criminal penalty ever for deliberate vessel pollution may leave Princess Cruise Lines downgrading to duchess, after the US government hit them with a $40 million fine for dumping contaminated waste into the ocean.

A plea agreement between Princess Cruise Lines and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) marked the historic payment of $40 million after it was discovered that Princess Cruises had been dumping oil contaminated waste via a so-called “magic pipe” since 2005, just a year after the vessel started operations.

Owned by the infamous Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises first came to the DOJ’s attention when an engineer-turned-whistleblower accused Princess of dumping oily waste off the coast of England and trying to cover it up. When it was discovered that the whistleblower was speaking to authorities, “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 press release.

This was not just dumping a couple cups of grease into the ocean, either. The DOJ says, “discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England.” The cover up from staff entailed running “clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.

The magic pipe was just one of many nefarious ways Princess dealt with getting rid of oil. A cruise ship boarded in Houston used an unauthorized valve that the DOJ found was covered with black oil. They also used a number of odd practices to release oil without setting off any monitors.

These underhanded techniques were used as means to get around paying more money to have waste properly offloaded at a port. As a result, Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden says that the DOJ is “sending a strong message with this case to the entire industry.

He told reporters: “The message is that lying to the US Coast Guard and polluting the marine environment will be identified, investigated and prosecuted.

Princess distanced itself from the employees who used these practices on multiple ships, saying in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed about the inexcusable actions of our employees.

They also added, “this settlement clearly shows that we fell short on our commitment to the environment, and for this we are very sorry and we take full responsibility.

A total of $10 million of the $40 million settlement will go to community service programs that benefit the maritime environment. In addition, the Princess will have to spend five years undergoing court-supervised environmental compliance monitoring aboard 78 ships from its 101-ship fleet.