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Princess Cruises Fined $40 Million for Illegally Dumping in the Ocean

Princess Cruises will pay a 40 million dollar fine for illegally and intentionally polluting the ocean. Federal attorneys say the plea agreement is the result of the largest criminal prosecution of its kind. The cruise line is also pleading guilty to seven felony charges. Watch Peter Greenberg’s report for CBS This Morning to learn more.

A whistleblower first discovered the elaborate system three years ago and alerted investigators. The ship was using a so-called “magic pipe” to illegally pump oily water into the ocean. Investigators charged that the cruise line had been illegally dumping thousands of gallons of contaminated water for eight years.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) says ship engineers aboard the Caribbean Princess repeatedly polluted the ocean—and went to great lengths to cover up the criminal actions. So-called bilge water is a mixture of water, oil, sludge, and other chemicals. Cruise ships are required to filter it, hold it, and offload the toxic waste safely at port, which can be expensive.

The DOJ says Princess Cruises used a magic pipe connected to a flexible hose to feed the dirty water into the gray water tank. Cruise lines are allowed to dump gray water (which comes from the ships’ sinks and showers) at sea. The whistle blower also turned over pictures and videos from inside the ship. Investigators say the cruise line performed these illegal practices on not one, but five of its ships.

Princess Cruises President Jan Swartz says several employees were fired and many were retrained. “We have worked very hard to improve and strengthen our operations and learn from our mistakes. We dramatically changed our shipboard and shore-side fleet operations, organizational structure, and leadership. We invested millions of dollars upgrading our equipment,” Swartz stated.

This plea deal is the latest in a long series of criminal penalties against large cruise lines. In the late 1990s, Royal Caribbean was caught dumping waste oil in another elaborate magic pipe scheme. The cruise line paid $27 million in two separate cases and three of the ship’s engineers were indicted. Two reportedly fled the country before trial. In the case of Princess, there won’t be a trial. But will it be a wake-up call to other cruise lines?

The plea agreement also requires all Princess ships to participate in a court-supervised environmental compliance program. That means independent inspections for the next five years. Of the settlement, $10 million will go toward community service projects to benefit marine environments.

To see more of Peter Greenberg’s reports for CBS This Morning, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for