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.

Princess Cruises has agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges stemming from its deliberate pollution of the seas and intentional acts to cover it up, according to a statement released this morning by the United States Department of Justice.

Princess will pay a $40 million penalty– the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution, the Justice Department said, and plead guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess.

The plea agreement was announced today by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, Florida.

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 whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie, according to the Justice Department.

The MCA shared evidence with the U.S. Coast Guard, including before and after photos of the bypass used to make the discharge and showing its disappearance. The U.S. Coast Guard conducted an examination of the Caribbean Princess upon its arrival in New York City on Sept. 14, 2013, during which certain crew members continued to lie in accordance with orders they had received from Princess employees, said the Justice Department.

According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had been making illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations. The discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 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.

"The Caribbean Princess used multiple methods over the course of time to pollute the seas. Prior to the installation of the bypass pipe used to make the discharge off the coast of England, a different unauthorized valve was used. When the Department of Justice investigative team conducted a consensual boarding of the ship in Houston, Texas, on March 8, 2014, they found the valve that crew members had described. When it was removed by Princess at the department’s request, it was found to contain black oil," said the press release. 

In addition to the use of a magic pipe to circumvent the oily water separator and oil content monitor required pollution prevention equipment, the Department of Justice said the U.S. investigation uncovered two other illegal practices which were found to have taken place on the Caribbean Princess as well as four other Princess ships – Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.

One practice was to open a salt water valve when bilge waste was being processed by the oily water separator and oil content monitor. The purpose was to prevent the oil content monitor from otherwise alarming and stopping the overboard discharge. This was done routinely on the Caribbean Princess in 2012 and 2013.

The second practice involved discharges of oily bilge water originating from the overflow of graywater tanks into the machinery space bilges. This waste was pumped back into the graywater system rather than being processed as oily bilge waste. Neither of these practices were truthfully recorded in the oil record book as required. All of the bypassing took place through the graywater system which was discharged when the ship was more than four nautical miles from land. As a result, discharges within U.S. waters were likely.

“The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden, in the prepared statement. “It reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better. Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well.”

“The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm. Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive.”

“The safety, security and environmental stewardship of our ports, waterways and oceans is an important Coast Guard mission set and the complexity of the challenges we face today requires a global unity of effort among law enforcement partners,” said Rear Admiral Scott Buschman Commander, Coast Guard District Seven. “I sincerely thank the U.S. Attorney and the United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency for your leadership, your collaboration and the hard work put forth to reach a plea agreement with significant penalties that serve as a clear warning to all polluters.”

“This shows just how well the U.K. and U.S. can work together on these kind of cases,” said Jeremy Smart, head of enforcement at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom. “It also sends a clear message to the industry that this kind of pollution practice will not be tolerated anywhere in the world. It also shows that we will always take any information we are given by those who report such practices to us very seriously and will act upon it.”

In addition to the criminal information, a plea agreement and joint factual statement were today filed in court in Miami. Photographs of some of the evidence provided by the whistleblower and obtained by the government were also filed in federal court.