(CN) - Princess Cruise Lines has pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and will pay $40 million after employees on its Caribbean Princess were caught dumping waste into the ocean and lied in an attempt to cover up their actions.
According to the Justice Department, the fine is the largest-ever criminal penalty for intentional vessel pollution.
In a news release, the Justice Department said as a result of its investigation. several cruise ships from eight Carnival companies, including Princess Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line N.V., Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises, will be subject to a court-supervised environmental compliance program for the next five years.
“The U.S. investigation was initiated after information was provided to the U.S. Coast Guard by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) indicating that a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called ‘magic pipe’ had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England,” the release says.
The vessel’s deliberate pollution was first uncovered by an engineer, who quit his position when the ship arrived in Southampton, England. But the chief engineer and the senior first engineer ordered the removal of the magic pipe and directed other employees to lie.
The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency later confirmed the oil dumping allegations when it provided the U.S Coast Guard with before and after photos showing how the waste was discharged into the seas and how it disappeared.
The Coast Guard conducted examined the Caribbean Princess upon its arrival in New York, and many employees lied about the illegal activities due to orders from higher rank crew members, the agency says.
One of the biggest discharges of oil waste occurred on August 26, 2013, when about 4,227 gallons were discharged 23 miles off the coast of England, the Justice Department said.
“At the same time as the discharge, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge,” according to investigators.
The Justice Department also said that on March 8, 2013, during a consensual boarding of the ship in Houston, Texas, its investigative team found out that besides using a bypass pipe to pollute the seas, the cruise ship also used an unauthorized valve that contained black oil.
The investigators determined the bypassing occurred through the gray-water system which was discharged when the ship was more than four nautical miles from land.
The ships Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess were also found to be involved with the illegal practices, the government said.
The settlement still needs to be approved by a federal judge. Once it is, the Justice Department said, $10 million of the $40 million penalty will be directed to community service projects to aid the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida, and $1 million will be allocated for projects to benefit the marine environment in the United Kingdom.
“We are extremely disappointed about the inexcusable actions of our employees who violated our policies and environmental law when they bypassed our bilge water treatment system and discharged untreated bilge water into the ocean,” Princess Cruise Lines said in a written statement.
“The marine environment is incredibly important to us and we are using this experience to further improve our operations,” the cruise line added.