Ah Carnival Cruise lines, what a wonderful vacation to take with the family! A decently in-expensive way to be treated as royalty for weeks at a time while cruising around the Caribbean in style! On the surface it seems too good to be true but Carnival has been around for decades providing timeless memories for families and friends all over the world. However, they have been hiding something since around the turn of the century.
It recently came to light that one of the Carnival Fleets, Carnival Princess, has been illegally dumping millions if not billions of gallons of waste into the oceans over international waters. From 2005-2013 the crew aboard the ship dumped ‘oily waste’ into the ocean through a drain that is now referred to as the “magic pipe.” Why would they do this? How did it take so long before these practices were discovered? That is what we are here to find out.
$40,000,000. The largest penalty a cruise line company has ever been hit with has been awarded to Carnival in 2016 as a result of their illegal dumping practices, along with a guilty plea to seven separate felony charges all regarding illegal dumping practices. On top of all that, Carnival has been put under probation; a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for the next five years. What this means is that Carnival, in the next five years, will be under the gun by the U.S government to abide by maritime laws when it comes to getting rid of the waste produced onboard their ships. Also, under the agreement a third-party, court appointed monitor will be used to audit Carnival and their operations onboard their cruise liners.
Not only did Carnival release toxic waste into the oceans knowingly, but they also had measures set in place that would allow them to cover up the dumping if any accusations came about. Obviously these plans failed and when it was all said and done actually ended up costing the company even more in terms of monetary and brand penalties. This doesn’t only hurt their wallets, it also hurts the pure image of Carnival Cruise Lines that the company once had.
Basically there are a few types of waste produced by a cruise ship out at sea. The first is black water; this is the excess water from toilets or sewage. This is okay to dump at sea once properly treated a certain distance offshore. “Grey water” is the water from sinks, showers, galleys and laundry and this is okay to dump anywhere except for within the Great Lakes in North America. Oily Bilge is the third type of waste, this is not okay to dump in the ocean unless it has gone through an oil-water separator (yes they exist) and are properly released into the water. There are a lot of regulations for oily bilge, this is the most common one in which companies get in trouble for. The last two are not okay to dump anywhere offshore for the most part and are hazardous waste and solid waste such as plastic or other garbage. These both must be disposed of on an onshore facility.
So what exactly happened in the years the Princess was dumping? Basically the crew used the “magic pipe” which was a drain used to discharge waste into the ocean that was legal. They dubbed it this name due to its inherent ability to have some of the ships problems disappear, almost like magic. Rather than dumping grey water or properly treated sewage water, Carnival staff decided to cut costs while in port so instead of properly disposing of things onshore, they decided to release black water and oily bilge discharge into the open ocean. Yes, through the “magic pipe.” Not only did they dump it, but they also made efforts in order to hide what they were doing while out and about on the sea. The “magic pipe” was in a sense a bypass to the systems that monitored what went into the water as being discharged by the ship itself as the pipe did not have to travel through the extensive process of oil-separation from the water. Can’t really get worse from here right? Here is how the United States Department of Justice responded to that:
“In addition to the use of a magic pipe to circumvent the oily water separator and oil content monitor required pollution prevention equipment, 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 grey water tanks into the machinery space bilges. This waste was pumped back into the grey water 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 grey water 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.”
-Taken from www.cruiselawnews.com
In August of 2013 an engineer brought on board of the Princess noticed something funny about how the ship was disposing of waste that was not supposed to be going to the ocean. He discovered the “magic pipe” and alerted investigators after there was an illegal discharge off the coast of England to the tune of 4,000 gallons of oily waste; thankfully he had some moral standpoint when it came to these illegal practices. The un-named engineer then quit his job because two senior engineers wanted to cover-up the situation as they ordered staff to lie to authorities as well as remove the “magic pipe” from the ship. Also according to the Department of Justice, the chief engineer held a meeting in the main engine control room and help up a sign reading “LA is listening.” This meant that Carnivals headquarters out of Los Angeles had audio recording equipment in this room in order to monitor in case there were ever any issues on-board that required an investigation. Kind of ironic if you ask me!
Later it came out that the illegal dumping was used in order to cut costs whenever the ship was in port. The chief engineer ordered the discharge through the “magic pipe” because it simply costs too much to unload the waste while in post and that the shore-side supervisor had told him that he would not pay this expense any more. It has also came out that the lead engineer as well as the on-shore supervisor were known as “braccino corto” which is Italian for a person with short arms. This is used as an expression in Italy to describe someone who is cheap; their arms are too short to reach their wallets essentially.
The United States Department of Justice seems to be trying to make an example of Carnival here, they need to get the point across that you must comply to these regulations if we want to upkeep our already depleting oceanic ecosystems. Many other cruise companies have been under investigation for the same practices, Carnival apparently got caught at the wrong time as they are suffering the most due to their operations. Although this is not the first time Carnival has been in the wrong here as they were fined $18,000,000 in 2002 for a similar altercation in which they were placed on probation as well. Obviously, the company did not learn from past mistakes and ended up paying the price. This isn’t just one ship doing bad stuff; this is entire fleets… and entire cruise company allowing these things to happen every day so you have to ask the question; When will it all end?
Thanks for reading! To find out more details about the actual investigation or just more information on the whole case itself feel free to follow the links I have listed as my sources, tons of information out there I just try to narrow it down to the main ideas behind what is happening out there!