British Columbia

Cruise ships named in U.S. pollution case have stopped in Victoria

Cruise ship industry expert Ross Klein says the guilty plea by Princess Cruise Lines to deliberate vessel pollution at sea will tarnish the industry's image.

'Magic pipe' pumped contaminated water overboard, company fined $40M US

Ogden Point as the fog lifts - the Golden Princess (right) was among Princess Cruise Lines' ships named in proceedings against the company for illegal dumping of oil-contaminated waste. (Herb Neufeld/flickr)

Four vessels which have visited Victoria in recent years were named in a pollution case against Princess Cruise Lines for illegal dumping of contaminated waste at sea.

The Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess have brought thousands of visitors to Victoria's busy Ogden Point cruise ship terminal through the summer months. 

But a cruise ship industry expert expects Princess and its parent company, Carnival Corporation, will now have their images tarnished after entering a guilty plea to seven felony charges in a U.S. court earlier this month. 

Princess Cruise Lines was fined $40 million US last week for deliberate ocean pollution and intentional acts to cover it up. 

The U.S. investigation started after a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called "magic pipe" had been used in August 2013, to illegally discharge more than 15,000 litres of oily waste off the coast of England.

"It's a practice that's actually not new," Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Engineers on the Caribbean Princess cruise ship illegally discharged more than 15,000 litres of oily bilge water at sea using a device called a 'magic pipe'. (U.S. Department of Justice)

"It was a way of taking oily bilge water that's supposed to be treated by separators and filtered out," Klein said. "It saves money from using filters."

In the 1990s when a different cruise line was caught doing the same thing, he said, the savings were only around $70,000 a year, but engineers in charge of operations would get a share of the savings.

The U.S. Department of Justice said efforts by the engineers on board the Caribbean Princess to conceal the illegal wastewater dumping included running clean seawater through the ship's overboard equipment to provide a false digital record for inspections.

'Magic pipe' not the only illegal practice

The "magic pipe" was not the only illegal practice identified on the Princess ships by U.S. investigators.

In addition to the violations on the Caribbean Princess, two other illegal practices, also involving illegal discharge of bilge waste, occurred on four Princess ships which docked in Victoria in recent years: Star Princess, Grand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.

Klein, who has published four books on the cruise ship industry as well as serving as an expert witness in legal cases and testifying in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, said the $40 million US fine for Princess Cruise Lines is not the heaviest penalty for parent company Carnival. 

Four vessels which have visited Victoria in recent years were named in the pollution case against Princess Cruise Lines for illegal dumping of contaminated waste at sea while off the coast of England. (U.S. Department of Justice)

 "If you're earning two and a half billion dollars, $40 million is just pocket change," Klein said. 

"I think the greatest cost to Princess and the Carnival Corporation is the PR value and the tarnishing of their image." 

'Documented history of environmental violations'

The violations were particularly troubling, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer said, "because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida."

All ships operated by Princess and other cruise lines also owned by Carnival Corporation will be subject to independent monitoring and audits under a court-supervised Environmental Compliance Program for five years.

To hear the full interview with cruise industry expert Ross Klein on CBC Radio One's On the Island click on the link labelled Victoria a stop for cruise ships named in illegal dumping case.