Princess Cruise Lines Agrees to Pay $40 Million to Resolve Allegations of Deliberate Waste Dumping
The government’s crackdown on fraud and abuse sometimes has international import as was demonstrated last month when a spokesperson for the Department of Justice announced that Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. (Princess) had agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges that it deliberately polluted the seas and had then intentionally tried to cover it up. The company agreed to pay the largest criminal penalty ever involving deliberate vessel pollution. Princess also pled guilty to charges that it dumped oil and waste from its Caribbean Princess cruise ship into the sea. As part of the plea agreement, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies are now being held under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for five years. As a requirement of the ECP, Princess and its eight cruise lines will be required to have an outside entity and a court appointed monitor its compliance with pollution regulations.
An investigation of Princess began when a whistleblower provided information to the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), that the Cruise line had hired an engineer who was using a “magic pipe” to illegally discharge oil waste off the coast of England. This whistleblower later quit his job. The chief engineer and senior first officer were ordered to cover-up this illegal dumping and to order subordinates to do the same. The U.S. Coast Guard conducted an investigation of the Caribbean Princess in late September 2013 during which crew members continued to lie in compliance with the instructions they were given by their superiors.
According to court papers, the Caribbean Princess had been engaging in illegal dumping since 2005. Indeed, an August 26, 2013 waste discharge by the ship involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England. At that time, its engineers ran seawater through its equipment in order to create a false digital record that covered up such activity. Other illegal dumping methods utilized by Caribbean Princess included the use of an unauthorized bypass pipe to discharge waste off the coast of England. When the Justice Department ordered the removal of this valve they found that it contained black oil. A final practice that the Caribbean Princess and its lines used to circumvent pollution regulations was that it opened a salt water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. This resulted in waste being pumped back into the graywater system rather than being processed as oily bilge waste.
“This shows just how well the U.K. and U.S. can work together on these kinds of cases,” said Jeremy Smart, head of enforcement at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom. “It also sends a clear message to the industry that this kind of pollution practice will not be tolerated anywhere in the world. It also shows that we will always take any information we are given by those who report such practices to us very seriously and will act upon it.”
Princess also admitted – among other violations – to the following:
- Illegal discharges took place on the Caribbean Princess dating back to 2005
- Senior ship engineers dismantled the bypass pipe and instructed crew members to lie
- Prior to the MCA boarding, the chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered crew members to lie
Remedial measures have been taken against Princess as a result of the government’s investigation. Princess must now upgrade its oily water separators and oil content monitors. The cruise line has also instituted many new policies that are designed to help it comply with pollution regulations. The government sought approval that $10 million of the $40 million dollar criminal penalty be devoted to projects that benefit the maritime environment. Parts of the penalty are also scheduled to help other environmental efforts in the UK and in South Florida.
If you know of potential violations of the False Claims Act, you are encouraged to contact a qui tam lawyer. Qui tam lawyers will be able to advise you as to your legal options. They will also be able to further educate you about this Act.