Though there have been plenty of cases where corporations have been caught accidentally or negligently polluting the ocean, it’s rare to have a company be forced to own up to intentionally polluting the open waters. This week, however, Princess Cruise Lines pled guilty to seven counts of “deliberate pollution” and now must pay a record-breaking fine.
In a huge step for environmental justice, Princess must cough up $40 million for its environmental crimes. One quarter of that money will go toward ventures that improve the marine environment.
A total of five Princess ships were discovered to be polluting the ocean on purpose. Most egregiously, the ships were regularly dumping thousands of gallons of oil and contaminated waste into the water. Alarms were also tampered with so crews would not be notified when too much oil was discharged.
The cruise company’s reason for avoiding environmental regulations isn’t complicated: money. Princess ships saved money when they chose to pollute rather than dispose of the discharge properly, which is why it’s so important to hold them financially accountable for these careless decisions.
The extent of the problem might never have been discovered if it weren’t for an engineer at Princess that decided to blow the whistle. While whistleblowers are often reviled, they clearly can serve an important function in improving society.
Princess Cruises, a subsidiary of larger cruise corporation Carnival, made things worse, however, when other engineers attempted to hide evidence of the illegal dumping before inspectors reached the ship. Lower ranking employees were instructed to lie to the authorities. This cover up was eventually exposed.
The corporate offices of Princess Cruises have blamed the wrongdoing on employees for not following official procedure. “We are very sorry that this happened and have taken additional steps to ensure we meet or exceed all environmental requirements,” a company spokesperson told NPR.
Princess Cruises ought not play dumb, though, considering that this type of intentional pollution was occurring on five different ships dating back to 2005. If multiple crews are breaking procedure for this long, either executives were complicit in these actions or the corporate attitude on environmental regulations must need a serious improvement.
For the next five years, ships on multiple Carnival lines will be subject to regular environmental inspections to ensure the deliberate polluting has legitimately stopped.
Though it’s great to hear that Princess Cruises will be held accountable and made to clean up its act moving forward, travelers who care about the environment should think twice about booking a trip on a cruise in general.
As the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union has pointed out, cruise ships emit as much pollution as it would take 5 million cars to travel the same distance. In a given year, the world’s 15 largest cruise ships contribute roughly the same amount of sulfur dioxide into the air as every single car on the planet.
It’s too bad that exiting laws don’t protect against air pollution in the way it does water pollution. If that were the case, cruise lines would have all sorts of fines coming their way.