Princess Cruise Lines has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $40-million fine for dumping illegal waste off the coast of England three years ago and trying to cover it up by lying to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The fine is the largest criminal penalty ever paid involving deliberate dumping by a cruise ship, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which said such illegal dumping had been committed by the same ship since 2005.
Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruise Lines, apologized for the dumping and said the Santa Clarita-based company had adopted new employee training, environmental procedures and equipment to prevent such incidents in the future.
"We are very sorry for the inexcusable actions of our employees," she said in a video. "We also deeply regret that our oversight was inadequate. We take full responsibility."
The fine and the guilty plea stem from an August 2013 incident when the Caribbean Princess dumped 4,227 gallons of oily waste about 23 miles off the coast of England, according to the Department of Justice. Investigators who reviewed the ship later determined that the crew had used an illegal bypass system, dubbed a "magic pipe," to discharge the oily waste water generated by shop machinery.
Princess is a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise company, with 99 ships worldwide and $1.8 billion in net income last year.
During the inquiry by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Coast Guard, investigators found that the Caribbean Princess had been violating environmental laws since a year after the ship started operations and that four other Princess ships had been bypassing environmental laws regarding overboard discharge.
The violation on the Caribbean Princess was uncovered by a newly hired engineer who reported the problem and quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. Court records show that ship engineers falsified on-board records to conceal the dumping and lied to U.S. Coast Guard inspectors about it.
"Today's case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. 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," said Wilfredo A. Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.
The motivation for the violations appeared to be financial. By dumping the waste water at sea, the ship saved on the cost of unloading it for treatment at the port.
The chief engineer on the ship, who was responsible for the discharge, had earned the nickname "braccino corto," an Italian expression for a cheap person whose arms are too short to reach his wallet, according to the Department of Justice.
Environmentalists say the outcome of the investigation suggests a widespread lax attitude among employees in the cruise company about protecting the ocean from pollution.
"This raises significant questions about the culture in the company," said John Kaltenstein, a senior policy analyst with Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that has issued grades to cruise companies based on their compliance with environmental laws.
In the Friends of the Earth's most recent report card, the group gave Caribbean Princess a C-minus grade, which is a combination of an A for air pollution treatment and an F for sewage treatment. The cruise line was given a C grade, primarily because of low marks for failing to disclose to the group its environmental procedures and records.
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12:15 p.m.: The article was updated with additional details about the illegal dumping and comments from Friends of the Earth.