Princess Cruise Lines has pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and will pay $40 million after employees on a cruise ship were caught dumping oiled waste into the seas and lying to cover up their actions, officials with the Justice Department said.
Federal authorities called it the “largest-ever criminal penalty” for intentional vessel pollution.
In a statement released by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida on Thursday, officials said that employees of a cruise ship, the Caribbean Princess, used several tactics, including a device called a “magic pipe,” to circumvent water-cleaning mechanisms and digital devices monitoring oil levels. Officials said that four other Princess ships were also found to have engaged in illegal practices to discharge waste.
As part of its plea agreement, ships from eight of the parent company Carnival Cruise lines will be under a court supervised environmental compliance plan for five years, and will undergo auditing, officials said.
The discharged waste included gray water — water that has been contaminated with food particles, grease and fat from the ship’s galley — and water found in the ship’s bilge, the bottom part of the ship where oil waste from engines can accumulate. In one case, investigators on the Caribbean Princess found black oil in another valve that employees used to discharge waste.
Officials said these practices began in 2005 and persisted until August 2013, when a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess observed more than 4,000 gallons of contaminated discharge being released into the ocean off the coast of England. He reported the practice to Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency and quit when the ship reached Southampton.
Princess, which is a division of the Miami-based Carnival Cruise lines, the largest such company in the world, gave the Caribbean Princess its debut in 2004, and the ship has traveled the world’s seas, from ports in Texas to the coast of England. One motive for the dumping, officials said, was to save money, because the cost of removing the waste from the ship at ports is expensive.
John C. Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement that the cruise line’s practice was habitual.
“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” Mr. Cruden said. “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better.”
In a statement, Princess Cruise Lines said it had launched its own internal investigation when the episode was first reported in 2013, and said that existing policies and procedures had not been enough to safeguard against the pollution. Princess also said that it had invested in better training, restructured operations and spent “millions of dollars” to upgrade ship equipment.
In its report, the Justice Department said that Princess had no written procedures or training for handling internal gray water spills.
An earlier version of this article misidentified the agency that released the statement on the Princess Cruise Line fine. It is the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, not the District Court.