Tourism & Cruises

Carnival is on probation for polluting the ocean. They’re still doing it, court records show

A previously confidential report shows Carnival Corporation repeatedly broke environmental laws during its first year on probation for a 2016 federal conviction. Here, the Carnival Horizon departs Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Sunday, April 8, 2018.
A previously confidential report shows Carnival Corporation repeatedly broke environmental laws during its first year on probation for a 2016 federal conviction. Here, the Carnival Horizon departs Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Sunday, April 8, 2018. Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

In the year after Carnival Corporation was convicted of systematically dumping oily waste into the ocean and lying about it to regulators, its ships illegally discharged more than a half-million gallons of treated sewage, gray water, oil and food waste, and burned heavy fuel oil in ports and waters close to shores around the world, according to a court-appointed monitor.

The findings are part of a pattern of illegal behavior during Carnival Corp.’s first of five years on probation that led U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz to publish a previously confidential report last week. In the 205-page report, the monitor overseeing Carnival Corp.’s environmental compliance flagged more than 800 incidents from April 2017 to April 2018.

The Miami Herald reviewed each incident and found that 24 were for illegally dumping sewage, food waste or oil; 19 were for illegally burning heavy fuel oil in protected areas; and more than 150 were the result of items like furniture accidentally going overboard. Carnival Corp. reported the violations to authorities directly or noted them in their internal records. None of the violations was intentional, according to the report.

Subsequent court filings show Carnival Corp. has continued to violate environmental laws in its second year on probation.

The monitor’s written report applauded the company’s cooperativeness on board and ashore, and noted the company had corrected conditions that led to the original charges. “The Company expended considerable efforts to meet the [probationary] Year One requirements, and has substantially complied with them,” the report states. “ Numerous individuals...have exhibited a strong commitment to creating a sustainable culture of environmental compliance.” The report also praised the company’s training initiatives.

But the report also called Carnival Corp.’s internal investigations “critically flawed” and said the company has not given enough authority to Chris Donald, its court-mandated corporate compliance manager. Donald told the Herald he has the authority and the confidence of Carnival Corp.’s executives. (Though he and company’s chief executive have the same surname, they are not related.)

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said Tuesday that the company will do what it takes to ensure it meets all expectations of its probation and strive to be “best in class on environmental compliance.”

“Our environmental responsibility has been and remains a top priority for the company,” he said. “Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived. This is in the best interest of our guests, our company and the oceans upon which we travel. We look forward to clarifying any issues and demonstrating our commitment.”

Hundreds of violations

In 2016, Miami-based Carnival Corp., the largest cruise company in the world and owner of nine cruise brands, pleaded guilty to seven felony charges in relation to its eight-year-long “conspiracy” of illegal oil dumping and subsequent cover up on five of its Princess Cruise Line ships. Carnival Corp. agreed to pay a $40 million fine — the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution — and five years of probation.

In fiscal year 2018, the company reported a profit of $3.2 billion.

Judge Seitz appointed Steven Solow, a partner at a Washington D.C. law firm, to inspect Carnival Corp. during probation. In June 2018, Solow submitted his first annual report to the court based on ship inspections, company records, interviews with employees and third party audits. That report remained confidential until Seitz published it last week “so the public can see what this criminal defendant is doing,” she said.

Seitz is considering making Solow’s reports from the second year of probation public as well. The Miami Herald has filed a motion in the case requesting that those reports be released.

A Miami Herald analysis of the report covering April 19, 2017 through April 18, 2018 provides a never-before-seen look at Carnival Corp.’s operations. The court-appointed monitor found that Carnival Corp:

Discharged more than 500,000 gallons of treated sewage, almost all of which was dumped in Bahamian waters, and 12 gallons of oil, most of which was fuel from lifeboats. The actions were in violation of international and domestic laws, which do not allow dumping in ports or in waters close to land.

The most recent EPA survey of cruise ship sewage in 2004 found that cruise ships generate an average of 21,000 gallons of sewage each day. Carnival Corp. operates 105 ships worldwide. The illegally dumped sewage represents less than one percent of the sewage generated by Carnival Corp.’s fleet annually.

Released more than 11,000 gallons of food waste and saw dozens of physical objects drop into ports and waters close to shore in violation of international and domestic laws. Among the items that accidentally went overboard were five chairs, 41 cushions and pillows and 10 tables, most of them thrown by passengers. It is illegal to throw garbage overboard anywhere in the ocean under international law. Food waste can be discharged three miles off land in some areas, 12 miles off land in others.

Burned unfiltered heavy fuel oil 19 times in protected areas for a total of 44 hours, in violation of international law, including 24 hours in a protected area off the coast of the North America. Carnival Corp. gives itself a six hour window to switch to a cleaner fuel while in protected areas. In only three incidents did ships burn heavy fuel oil for more than six hours: in Alaska, Iceland and an unspecified part of North America’s waters.

Falsified records related to training and maintenance on four occasions.

A copy of the monitor’s report is at the bottom of this story. Extracted data from the report can be found here.

New research shows the air quality on cruise decks can be similar to a busy road in Beijing.

Not the first time

Carnival Corp.’s 2016 conviction was not its first.

In 1998, Holland America Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., pleaded guilty to illegally dumping oil. The company paid a $2 million fine and was on probation for five years.

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Carnival Corporation violated environmental crimes hundreds of times while on probation. Many of those violations occurred in the Caribbean, including more than 500,000 gallons of treated sewage dumped in Bahamian waters. surpasspro Getty Images/iStockphoto

In 2002, Carnival Corp. pleaded guilty to falsifying records to cover up illegal oily waste discharges on six ships. That resulted in an $18 million fine and five years of probation. In 2005, when Princess Cruise Line began committing the crimes that led to its 2016 conviction, the company was still on probation from 2002.

“We call you high-risk defendants when you have this number of repeat offenses,” Seitz said to Carnival Corp’s lawyers last week. “The defendant is a criminal. It is a recidivist criminal.”

Carnival Corp. is not alone; other cruise lines have been convicted of similar crimes in the past.

In 1999, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. paid a $9 million fine after pleading guilty to federal crimes related to rigging its ships to bypass pollution control equipment and covering up dumps of toxic waste water.

In 2002, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings pleaded guilty to falsifying records to cover up oil dumps and paid a $1 million fine.

Although Carnival Corp.’s convictions are not unique, the company’s pattern of repeated violations, even when it is under a microscope, show how difficult it is for authorities to hold cruise companies accountable. It also shows the difficulty of strict compliance across 105 ships, more than 120,000 employees, millions of guests and dozens of countries.

A handful of incidents included in the annual report predate the 2016 conviction itself.

Between September 2015 and October 2016, various Holland America Line ships dumped a variety of substances — including treated sewage, food waste and untreated water from the kitchen and bathrooms — into the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary near San Francisco. The waters are a nationally significant marine ecosystem and are home to many threatened and endangered species.

From May to September 2016, Princess Cruise Line’s Grand Princess ship dumped “various waste streams” into the expanded boundaries of the sanctuary. This was discovered in December 2016 — little more than two weeks before Carnival Corp.’s conviction for lying about dumping oil.

In February 2017, a nitrogen cylinder aboard the Emerald Princess ship in Port Chalmers, New Zealand exploded while being re-pressurized, killing a crew member who was standing nearby. The cylinder was badly corroded at the time of the explosion. The incident was a violation of New Zealand’s Maritime Transport Act.

During the first year of probation, the company tried to prevent any negative findings on its ships by sending operations personnel to the ships to prepare in advance. Judge Seitz ordered Carnival Corp. to stop the practice in December 2017, and the company said it stopped at that time.

While on probation

The probation monitor logged more than 800 incidents across at least 80 Carnival Corp. vessels. While the company did not repeat any of the same illegal behavior that led to the 2016 conviction, new violations abounded.

In June 2017, the P&O Azura ship burned heavy fuel oil for 16 hours while traveling through Iceland’s Environmental Protection Zone. The heavy fuel oil that ships use is high in sulfur. Iceland is among many countries that require ships to filter heavy fuel oil emissions or switch to low-sulfur fuel near its shores. Sulfur in exhaust from cargo and cruise ships is linked to 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease and 14 million childhood asthma cases annually.

In March 2018, while the Carnival Imagination ship was docked in Ensenada, Mexico, it discharged 26 gallons of treated sewage.

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The Bahamas was the country most affected by Carnival Corp.’s violations. In one July 2017 instance, the Carnival Pride ship dumped 15 pounds of food waste into Half Moon Cay, the company’s private island used as a beach for cruise passengers. Miami Herald

The Bahamas was the country most affected by Carnival Corp.’s violations, mostly related to sewage and food waste. In one July 2017 instance, the Carnival Pride ship dumped 15 pounds of food waste into Half Moon Cay, the company’s private island used as a beach for cruise passengers.

Fourteen violations occurred in Florida ports or off of the Sunshine State’s shores. In one instance in October 2017, the Carnival Paradise ship burned heavy fuel oil unfiltered for 40 minutes while in port in Tampa. In March 2018 while at port in Jacksonville, a pallet broke and a plastic container with 30 pounds of egg yolks fell overboard.

The report also highlights more pervasive issues, such as broken equipment, leaked refrigerant gas, missing records and accidentally striking marine life.

In August 2017, the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at the port in Ketchikan, Alaska, with a dead humpback whale on its bow. The incident report noted that Carnival Corp. ships have a history of striking whales in Alaskan waters. Alaska is the U.S. state with the most stringent environmental laws to protect its fragile ecosystem.

“We’re on a journey, it’s a long journey,” Corporate Compliance Manager Chris Donald said. “We’ve learned a lot, and we do aspire to be the best. It’s our duty to protect the ocean we sail on and the land that we touch.”

Earlier this year, the probation officer in Carnival Corp.’s criminal case recommended that Seitz revoke probation and sanction the company again, citing Solow’s still-confidential reports that show Carnival Corp. continued to violate laws in the second year of probation as well.

At a hearing last week, Seitz scolded Carnival Corp.’s chairman, Micky Arison, and president Donald — neither of whom were present — and said she regretted not being able to send the executives to jail.

Seitz will decide whether Carnival Corp.’s behavior merits a probation violation at a hearing in June and requested that Arison and Donald be there to answer her questions. She threatened to temporarily block the company from docking any of its 105 cruise ships at U.S. ports., saying she would decide after the June hearing.

Related stories from Miami Herald

Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.


Caitlin Ostroff is a data reporter for McClatchy’s DC Bureau, based at the Miami Herald. She uses data analysis and coding to present and report information as part of the investigative team.


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