MIAMI – Princess Cruises has agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges from its ships deliberately polluting the seas and intentional acts to cover it up, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer announced Thursday.
The cruise line is set to pay a $40 million penalty -- the largest-ever criminal penalty for a cruise line accused of deliberate vessel pollution.
Prosecutors said cruise line employees have illegally dumped oil-contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess ship since 2005, a year after the ship began operations.
A Princess Cruises representative said the illegal dumping and cover up was committed by members of the shipboard crew and no one at the executive level of Princess Cruises was aware of the activities.
He said employees who were involved in the activities were immediately removed from the ship and improvements were made to the cruise lines' safeguards fleet-wide.
The Caribbean Princess travels to several U.S. ports in Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Virginia.
The investigation began after a newly hired engineer on the ship reported to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) that a "magic pipe" had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally discharge 4,227 gallons of oily waste off the coast of England.
Prosecutors said MCA notified the U.S. Coast Guard and a government investigation found that the Caribbean Princess had used multiple methods over the years to dump waste that polluted the seas.
"This shows just how well the U.K. and U.S. can work together on these kind of cases," said Jeremy Smart, head of enforcement at MCA. "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."
Prosecutors said oily waste was also illegally dumped from four other Princess cruise ships, including the Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.
Princess Cruises is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation and is based in Santa Clarita, California. Carnival is headquartered in Miami.
"The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida," Ferrer said in a statement. "Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm. 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."
According to court records, Princess Cruises has instituted many new policies and has taken remedial measures in response to the investigation, including upgrading oily water separators and oil content monitors on every ship in its fleet.
If approved by the court, prosecutors said $10 million of the penalty will go toward community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million will go to environmental projects in South Florida and $1 million will be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters.