Many people do not know that Carnival Cruise Lines, the largest cruise ship company in the world, is actually a convicted felon. In 2016, the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, pled guilty to 7 felony charges in relation to an eight yearlong conspiracy of illegally dumping oil and covering up the illegal activity. Carnival paid a $40 million fine as a result, which was the largest ever criminal penalty assessed for the deliberate violation of vessel pollution laws. In addition to this fine, Carnival was placed on 5 years of probation.
Carnival, which reported a profit of $3.2 billion in the year 2018, has been found to still have ships that are illegally discharging sewage, gray water, oil, and food waste in the year after they were convicted of illegal dumping and lying to authorities. The massive cruise line has also been found to have burned heavy fuel oil imports and waters close to the shores around the world, which are all illegal.
The continued illegal behavior on the part of Carnival has been the subject of proceedings in the Federal District Court in the Southern District of Florida. The federal court judge handling the matter, apparently very upset at the actions of this billion dollar corporation, has released a 205 page report of the monitoring and overseeing of Carnival’s environmental compliance during its probation. The report and subsequent court filings have revealed that Carnival continues to violate environmental laws during its 2nd year on probation.
A Washington D.C. law firm partner was appointed to inspect the company during its probation, and in June 2018, submitted his first annual report to the court. Although previously confidential, it was published just last week “so the public can see what this criminal defendant is doing”, as stated by Judge Patricia Seitz, the federal court judge handling the matter.
It is also interesting to note that the 2016 criminal conviction of Carnival was not the first time for this billion dollar corporation. In 1998, Holland American line, which is a subsidiary of Carnival, also pled guilty to illegally dumping oil, paid a $2 million fine, and was placed on probation for five years. In 2002, Carnival pled guilty to falsifying records to cover up illegal oil waste discharges on six of its ships, resulting in an $18 million fine and 5 years of probation. In 2005, when Princess Cruise line began committing crimes which led to the 2016 conviction, the company was still on probation from its violations in 2002.
Judge Seitz summed it up: “”We call you high-risk defendants when you have this number of repeat offenses.” She added, “The defendant is a criminal. It is a recidivist criminal.”
Other cruise lines have also been convicted of similar type crimes in the past. In 1999 Royal Caribbean cruises, another large cruise ship company based in Miami, paid a $9 million fine after they pled guilty to federal crimes relating to rigging its ships to bypass pollution control equipment and covering up dumps of toxic waste water. In 2002, Norwegian Cruise line pled guilty to falsifying records to cover up oil dumps and paid a $1 million fine.
The continued pattern of repeated violations by Carnival demonstrates how difficult it is for the authorities to hold cruise ship companies accountable. There are 105 ships, more than 120,000 employees and millions of guests and dozens of countries. Numerous other violations are also described in the article that is linked here.
Judge Seitz at the hearing said she regretted she was unable to send the executives to jail. There is a hearing set in June and she has requested that Carnival executives be present to answer questions. She has also threatened to temporarily block the cruise ship company from docking any of its 105 cruise ships at U.S. ports, withholding that decision until after the next hearing in June.
We will keep you informed of this very important matter. As I have been an attorney handling nothing but maritime cases since 1983, I have always wondered why cruise ship companies avoid stringent regulations and laws, and in fact enjoy a very favorable treatment under our current laws. For many years there were no mandatory reporting requirements for crimes that happen on cruise ships, allowing the cruise ship companies to self-police themselves. I testified during Congressional Hearings addressing cruise ship safety and security, and the committee members during the hearings were quite surprised to learn that there were no mandatory reporting requirements. The hearings prompted more hearings and eventually passage of the 2010 Cruise Ship Vessel Security and Safety Act signed into law by President Obama.
Although the cruise ship companies spend millions lobbying Congress each year, and bring in a lot of revenues to our states in the United States, they must be accountable to the laws of our country and held accountable for its actions.