Tourism & Cruises

We’re victims of Carnival’s illegal dumping, Bahamas and Alaska residents tell court

A Bahamas resident and two Alaska residents want a say in the criminal case against Carnival Corporation; they claim to be victims of the Miami-based cruise company’s environmental crimes.

In an emergency motion filed Thursday, they asked Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz of Miami to recognize them as victims in the case and allow them to review a pending settlement between Carnival Corp. and federal prosecutors. Carnival Corp. declined to comment on the motion.

The company is charged with violating its probation in six new charges that stem from Carnival Corp.’s 2016 conviction for dumping oily waste from its Princess Cruises ships into the ocean — and covering it up — for a period of eight years. The company paid $40 million as part of its guilty plea and began its five-year probation in April 2017. It was Carnival Corp.’s third conviction for the same activity since 1998.

The six probation violations are for falsifying records, communicating with the U.S. Coast Guard through a back channel, failing to give enough authority to the company’s environmental compliance officer, rushing to clean up ships ahead of visits by a court-appointed monitor, and dumping plastic into Bahamian waters. Details about the sixth incident have not been disclosed.

At a hearing scheduled for Monday, June 3, Seitz will review the settlement on the probation violation charges between Carnival Corp. and federal prosecutors and has requested that Chairman Micky Arison and President Arnold Donald attend. Carnival Corp. is the largest cruise company in the world and owns nine cruise brands and 105 ships.

Knoll Lowney, a Seattle-based attorney representing the alleged victims, said his clients want more transparency in the case. They are not seeking money compensation.

“The victims have rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and that includes the ability to confer with the government about a proposed plea agreement, a proposed settlement of the probation violations,” he said. “They also have the right to have their opinions heard by the court. Those are what we’re trying to make sure happen.”

Sam Duncombe, co-founder of the Bahamas-based environmental group reEarth; Eric Forrer, a fisherman from Alaska; and Theodore Thoma, head of the environmental group Responsible Cruising in Alaska, say they have experienced harm from Carnival Corp.’s pollution firsthand and represent all similarly affected communities.

“Carnival Corporation makes me feel like a second-class citizen in my own country: someone whose health, livelihood, and community are an easily ignored inconvenience for the multibillion-dollar international corporation,” said Duncombe in a statement to the court Thursday.

Forrer said in his statement that he repeatedly encountered heavily polluted water in areas frequented by Carnival Corp. ships in Alaska over his long career as a fisherman.

A previously confidential report by the court-appointed monitor for Carnival Corp.’s first year on probation from April 2017 to April 2018 showed that although the company invested in more environmental compliance training and was generally cooperative, it repeatedly violated environmental laws, including dumping more than 500,000 gallons of treated sewage into Bahamian waters.

The court-appointed monitor also found multiple violations in Alaska waters during that time frame and into the company’s second year on probation. Carnival Corp. ships burned unfiltered heavy fuel oil off of Alaska’s shores for a total of seven hours over two incidents, in violation of international environmental laws. On Aug. 9, 2017, the Grand Princess arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska, with a dead humpback whale on its bow.

The Westerdam, part of the Holland America fleet, which is owned by Carnival, dumped 26,000 gallons of gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in September 2018. Holland America did not immediately report the Glacier Bay discharge to the Coast Guard as required by federal law and paid a $250 fine to Alaska authorities. Despite the incident, the National Park Service announced in March it intends to give Carnival Corp. a permit to continue sailing in Glacier Bay for the next 10 years.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson sent a letter to Seitz Friday urging her not to block Carnival Corp. ships from docking in U.S. ports as punishment for Carnival’s alleged probation violations, as she previously threatened to do. Clarkson said a ban would hurt the state’s economy and local communities that depend on tourists from cruises; nearly half of all tourist visitors to Alaska in 2017 came on cruise ships.

“A ban on Carnival vessels would be devastating,” he wrote.

Also on Thursday, Seitz published 10 letters she has received from the public about the case over the past few months.

Heal the Ocean, an environmental advocacy group, urged Judge Seitz to punish Carnival Corp. for continued violations while on probation.

In another letter, an Emerald Princess passenger reported witnessing a dumping incident while at port in Skagway, Alaska, in September 2018. The person provided photos to the court of a yellowish plume of liquid coming from the side of the ship and said it was dispersed for at least 20 minutes. The discoloration in the water was visible for more than an hour, the passenger wrote. Another person wrote to the court about faulty equipment, saying that while the writer‘s wife and her sister were aboard a Ruby Princess cruise, the plumbing failed yet no one came to investigate or fix the problem for the duration of the cruise.

Some wrote the judge not about specific violations but generally urging her to impose greater penalties on Carnival for repeated violations, including blocking its ships from docking at U.S. ports.

One person, identifying as a former cruise industry employee of 26 years, expressed concern for where waste, fuel and oil are being disposed of by cruise ships. “The cruise ship industry has no regulation,” this person wrote, and also cited poor conditions for employees as an issue, saying most work long hours to send money home to poor families.

Not all of the letters called for a harsher penalty. Two sought guidance on whether Seitz would actually bar the ships from port or raised concerns over trips they had planned and saved for, urging her to not impose such a punishment.

“I feel that Carnival asserted that there had been a misunderstanding,” one letter said, asking Seitz not to keep Carnival from docking. “I’m sure their explanations are sincere, and I hope for a positive outcome.”

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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.
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.
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