A U.S. District Judge in Florida imposed a sentence on Princess Cruise Lines, ordering the company to pay a $40 million penalty related to the illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste and falsifying official logbooks in an effort to conceal the discharges. The sentence, which was imposed today by U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz in Miami, represents the largest ever for crimes related to deliberate cruise line pollution.
Judge Seitz also ordered $1 million to be awarded to a Princess Cruise Lines whistleblower who provided evidence of the illegal discharges to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which then turned the evidence over to the U.S. Coast Guard and ultimately led to today’s whistleblower enforcement action.
The Princess Cruise Lines whistleblower, Christopher Keays of Glasgow, Scotland, was an engineer on a vessel called the Caribbean Princess, a job he called a “chance of a lifetime.” But Keays would leave the ship feeling hugely disappointed after witnessing the company’s “blatant disregard for the protection of the seas and in defiance of the law.”
Keays reported that a “magic pipe” (a bypass pipe) on the Caribbean Princess had been used in 2013, to “illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England without the use of required pollution prevention equipment,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Shocked by what he saw, Keays took photographs of the bypass pipe, which led to two inspections of the vessel in England and the U.S. During these inspections, crew members concealed the illegal activity by lying to authorities at the behest of engineering officers, who ordered them to conceal the dumping.
The August 2013 discharge off the coast of England involved over 4,000 gallons of illegally discharged waste. At the time of the incident, engineers ran clean seawater through the ship’s monitoring equipment to conceal the illegal dumping and created a false digital log showing a legitimate discharge. According to court documents, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges since 2005.
The case wasn’t limited to just the Caribbean Princess; four additional Princess Cruise Lines vessels also engaged in illegal dumping, including the Star Princess, the Grand Princess, the Coral Princess, and the Golden Princess.
According to court documents, Princess Cruise Lines admitted to the following:
- After suspecting that authorities knew about the illegal dumping, senior ship engineers dismantled the bypass pipe and instructed crew members to lie during inspections by authorities.
- A chief engineer held a sham meeting in the engine control room in order to give the appearance of looking into the dumping allegations. This was done while holding up a sign that said: “LA is listening.” Those at this meeting understood that anything said could potentially be heard by those at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California because the engine control room was wired for sound to monitor conversations in the event of an incident.
- One of the perceived motives for the illegal dumping was financial – the chief engineer that ordered the dumping off the coast of England told subordinates that properly offloading the waste in port came at too great a cost and that his superior would not pay the cost for proper waste disposal.
- Graywater tanks (water from the galley, bath, and shower water, as well as wastewater from lavatory sinks, laundry, and water fountains) overflowed into the bilges on a routine basis. The mixture of oily bilge water and gray water was pumped back into the gray water system and then improperly discharged overboard when that waste was required to be treated as oil-contaminated bilge waste. The overflows were caused by large amounts of fat, grease, and food particles from the galley that drained into the gray water system, which overflowed at least once a month and, at times, as frequently as once per week. Princess Cruise Lines had no written procedures or training for how gray water spills were supposed to be remedied, and the problem persisted without being corrected for years.
- A related practice was to open a saltwater valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. This prevented the oil content monitor from going into alarm mode and stopping the overboard discharge.
Princess Cruise Lines $40 Million Penalty for Illegal Dumping
Of the $40 million penalties imposed by the court, $10 million has been earmarked for community service projects to benefit the maritime environment. Three million of the community service payments will be put toward environmental projects in South Florida and one million will go to projects that benefit the marine environment in England.
Additionally, one million from the penalty will be given to the Abandon Seafarer’s Fund, which was established to provide a means for the U.S. Coast Guard to offer humanitarian relief and support of seafarers who are abandoned in the U.S. and are witnesses to maritime-related crimes.
The sentence imposed by Judge Seitz also requires Princess Cruise Lines to remain on probation for five years. During this time, all of the related Carnival cruise ship companies trading in the U.S. will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan that includes independent audits by an outside company and oversight by a court-appointed monitor, per a Justice Department press release. As a result of the government’s investigation, Princess Cruise Lines has already taken a number of corrective actions, including upgrading the oily water separators and oil content monitors on all of the vessels in its fleet and instituting new policies to address the allegations outlined in this case.
Princess Cruise Lines Whistleblower on Why He Came Forward
The decisive action of Christopher Keays to right a wrong and expose the illegal dumping, in this case, are commendable and speak to the importance and necessity of whistleblowing. “Thinking back, I had not considered the implications of my response and that my career may be over before it barely started,” Keays told BBC, who added that his actions were guided by “an automatic response to wrong when so many others clearly turned a blind eye.”
“I genuinely hope that this will be a wake-up call for the industry, that my actions will be replicated and empower those with knowledge of these practices to do the right thing, and finally deliberate pollution will become a past shame rather than a continued illegal practice that is unspoken of by many ships crew.”