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Princess Cruises’ announced today that they had “reached a plea agreement with the Department of Justice” regarding illegal bilge-water dumping incidents that date back to 2013. The cruise line faces the largest ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution, according to the DOJ.
As for the settlement, Princess will pay over $40 million in fines while parent company Carnival has agreed to have their ships from across all of their various brands take part in a mandatory Environmental Compliance program.
What Went Wrong?
In a video statement , Jan Swartz — president of Princess Cruises — said that in late 2013, the company was alerted “that some of our employees on board one of our ships had intentionally violated both our policies and environmental law when they bypassed our bilge-water treatment system and discharged untreated bilge water directly into the ocean.”
Unfortunately, an internal investigation revealed that similar practices were occurring on other ships. “Although we had policies and procedures in place,” a written statement elaborated, “it became apparent they were not fully effective.” Worse, while the situation was brought to the company’s attention in 2013, the investigation revealed that violations had been occurring as far back as 2005.
According to the DOJ, the investigation was initiated “after information was provided to the U.S. Coast Guard… indicating that a newly hired engineer on the 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, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie.”
Assistant Attorney General Cruden said that the pollution “was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” and that “it reflects very poorly on Princess’ 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.”
Why Did It Happen?
According to a FAQ released by Princess, they “believe these actions were taken to save time and that those involved thought they were saving the company money, but since they violated our policies and the law it was not savings we incentivized, directed nor approved.”
What’s Being Done?
Senior officers involved in the incidents have, according to Princess, been fired. And since the initial discovery in 2013, Princess says that it has been working to deal with the situation. “Over the past three years,” the written statement continues, “we have implemented a number of corrective measures to improve our oversight and accountability.” These have included bringing in new leadership, investing millions in upgraded equipment and focusing on training across the board.
If the court accepts the plea, Princess will pay $40 million in fines, $10 of which will go to community service projects to benefit the maritime environment, with $3 million of the community service payments going to environmental projects in South Florida and another million earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters. Princess will plead guilty to seven felony charges.
Princess’ Message To You
“Princess cares deeply about the oceans and marine environment,” the FAQ concludes, “and we are very sorry for this violation of environmental law. We want our guests to know that we are using this experience to future improve how we operate to protect and preserve the oceans. With the steps we have and will continue to take to improve our compliance, we commit to sending a high standard for environmental excellence and responsibility.”