Princess Cruises “depends on the oceans. We are committed to environmental practices that set a high standard for excellence and responsibility and help preserve the marine environment.” Its “Planet Princess” web page describes how the company does that through voluntary “environmental certification” and efforts to minimize air and water pollution.
The Department of Justice tells a different story. On Monday, the DOJ announced that the company was fined $20 million after violating the terms of probation from a 2017 citation for dumping polluted water into the ocean. This update notes that they continue to illegally dump plastic overboard as well.
A whistleblower – one of the ship’s engineers — originally brought that case to the authorities. That’s how regulators get most of their cases these days, according to a Department of Justice official who spoke at a panel on the topic in April.
The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships includes a whistleblower provision. Regulators say the six-to-eight people in the engineer room are often the only people who know what is happening on boats far from shore.
A recent report on 100 APPS settlement agreements found they resulted in $177 million in fines. In those cases, $33 million went to whistleblowers and $56 million went to environmental programs like the Florida National Keys Marine Sanctuary.
Since the 2017 violation, Carnival has been operating under a “supervised environmental compliance plan (ECP), including audits by an independent company and oversight by a Court Appointed Monitor,” according to the Monday announcement. The auditors basically found the company was not following the plan.
Violations Carnival admitted to include “interfering with the court’s supervision of probation by sending undisclosed teams to ships to prepare them for the independent inspections required during probation.” The court ordered them to stop. According to the DOJ, they didn’t. “Documents filed in court showed that a purpose of the vessel visit programs was to avoid adverse findings during the inspections.”
Many cases involve what is known at a “Magic Pipe,” a system set up to illegally discharge untreated oily waste. In the 2017 case, the whistleblower took photos of the magic pipe and handed them to inspector in England and New York in 2013. During subsequent inspections, crew members lied to inspectors about the pipe, on order from Caribbean Princess engineering officers, according to Monday’s DOJ update.
As with all DOJ announcements, this one includes comments from agency bosses. From the release:
“A corporation is responsible to its shareholders and board of directors to be profitable, but not by breaking the law and destroying the very environment in which it navigates for profit,” said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida. “Carnival’s failure to comply with the terms of its probation and later, its attempt to drown its deceit goes against the fiber of corporate compliance.”
Monday’s decision notes that the company has admitted to the following, including dumping plastic waste overboard near the Bahamas.
Failing to establish a senior corporate officer as a corporate compliance manager with responsibility and sufficient authority for implementing new environmental measures required during probation;
- Contacting the Coast Guard seeking to re-define the definition of what constitutes a major non-conformity under the ECP without going through the required process and after the government had rejected the proposal and told the company to file a motion with the court if it wanted to pursue the issue;
- Deliberately falsifying environmental training records aboard two cruise ships; and
- Deliberately discharging plastic in Bahamian waters from the Carnival Elation and failing to accurately record the illegal discharges. Prosecutors advised the Court that this particular instance was an example of a more widespread problem, identified by the external audits, in failing to segregate plastic and non-food garbage from waste thrown overboard from numerous cruise ships.
In addition to revamping the company’s compliance program, the CEO is required to “issue a statement to all employees in which Carnival’s CEO accepts management’s responsibility for the probation violations.”
The environmental group STAND issued a statement following the Miami hearing on the case calling the fine “a slap on the wrist.” The group monitors the environmental impact of corporations and has been critical of parent company Carnival Corporation.