Largest cruise line guilty of environment crimes

Carnival paying big fines for criminal negligence

2019, July 1: With more than 100 of the world’s largest cruise ships generating annual profits of more than three billion USD from cruising the pristine waters of the Caribbean, the largest cruise company in the world appears to be remarkably cavalier about protecting the environment on which its business model largely rests.

On June 3, 2019, Carnival Corporation’s top executives led by Chairman Micky Arison and President Arnold Donald – representing the company’s nine brands – appeared in a Miami court. The company had been ordered back to court to answer criminal charges of probation violation and the judge stated that she wanted the top executives to be in court.

At the end of the process, the company was fined 20 million USD and ordered to be more diligent. Meanwhile, environmentalists in The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and elsewhere have protested, saying that a fine of $20 million was hardly a deterrent to environmental crimes. One commentator described the court ruling as a mere ‘slap on the wrist’. Efforts by some Caribbean concerns to be represented at the trial as ‘victims’ (to be able to testify in support of the prosecution) were in vain.


Carnival Liberty in Grand Turk

In 2016 Carnival Corporation pleaded guilty to several felonies relating to illegal dumping of oil and a subsequent cover-up of this crime, which lasted eight years. It was the company’s third conviction for the same crime (one in 1998 the other in 2002). The company then accepted a $40 million fine, up to then the largest fine for a crime against the environment in the history of the US; and, five years of probation (which began in April 2017).

The six counts of probation violation faced by the Company included knowingly posing a threat to marine life by allowing plastic to be discharged along with food waste into the sea in The Bahamas. The six probation violations were:

  1. Falsifying training records
  2. Linking with the US Coast Guard via a back channel
  3. Failing to properly empower its environmental compliance officer
  4. Cleaning up ships just ahead of visits by the monitor appointed by the court
  5. Continuing to clean up ships ahead of auditor visits after the court had denounced the practice
  6. Dumping food waste mixed with plastic into Bahamian waters

Reports are that Carnival’s CEO, Arnold Donald, found himself in the uncomfortable situation of having to plead guilty six times in open court.

The Court was informed that, despite its previous convictions for dumping oily waste into the sea and its investments in environmental protection and personnel training, Carnival repeatedly violated environmental laws during 2017.

In April 2019, The Bahamas government announced that it would investigate Carnival’s discharge of about 500,000 gallons of treated sewage into Bahamian waters. The monitor appointed by the Court listed 13 incidents in which the cruise line had illegally dumped treated sewage in The Bahamas. Carnival had reportedly informed Bahamian authorities about the discharges saying they were not deliberate but were a result of human error.

Washington DC lawyer Steven Solow, appointed by the court to monitor Carnival’s operations, listed accidental discharges of treated sewage, oily bilge and food waste. He also reported the illegal burning heavy fuel oil in protected areas. The offences listed (about 800 in all) included 450,000 gallons of treated sewage dumped in Bahamian waters in one month; two discharges of greywater and treated sewage within 12 miles of the Turks and Caicos Islands coastline in 2017.

Furniture overboard

An independent review of each incident by The Miami Herald found that 24 were specifically for illegally dumping sewage; food waste or oil. And 19 were illegal incineration of heavy fuel oil in protected areas. More than 150 were the result of items like furniture accidentally going overboard, the Miami Herald found.

In opening the court hearing in Miami, the judge asked Carnival’s executives for a commitment to make preservation of the environment a core value.

“This (environment protection) is a worldwide community responsibility and this company is in a perfect position to make a profound difference if it becomes their living, breathing core value. But somebody can only change if they want to change,” US District Judge Patricia Seitz said. She warned that future violations could bring criminal fines, even prison time for individuals.

There was no word of any part of the massive fines collected in the US Court going to those victim states directly affected by Carnival’s transgressions for correcting the harm done or for other environment protection programmes. —[]