A right royal pollution penalty

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

02 December 2016


There was a time when incorrect entries in the oil record book were more to do with the chief engineer over-consumption of lubes so as to build up a reserve that could be used as a counter to penny pinching by owners refusing to sanction supplies or – in some cases – for the chief engineer to profit from by selling to other ships. Sadly the most common reason these days seems to be to hide illegal discharges of oil by way of bypassing the oil water separator. Yesterday the latest of these came to light when Carnival Cruises was hit with a massive $40 million penalty for illegally dumping oily water from the cruise ship Caribbean Princess into UK waters in 2013. That incident which was reported to UK officials by an engineer who witnessed the event and later left the vessels, was not the only occasion it seems as the US investigators found evidence of other illegal discharges including into US waters in 2012 and 2013. The penalty imposed is not for the pollution caused incidents but for presenting fraudulent documents – oil record books etc – to US officials. Being hit with the largest ever fine for magic-pipe incidents is not something Carnival will want to become known for but the protestations by the company of ‘the inexcusable actions of employees’ sound somewhat insincere. Firing rogue employees is all very well but the investigation determined that the practice had been happening on the Caribbean Princess since 2005 – just a year after the ship was delivered - and was also found on four other Princess ships which indicates that the practice was given official sanction at a higher level than the ship’s officers. Surely it could not have escaped notice that the vessel’s bills for discharging into shore facilities were lower than might have been expected or maybe the separator was found to be faulty or troublesome but then why was no warranty claim made against the supplier or the equipment replaced? The number of magic-pipe incidents and the fact that even supposed top-flight companies are prepared to risk fines and other sanctions does suggest that there is a problem with the shore reception situation. But would it not be far better for there to be a concerted campaign by the shipping industry to effect improvements rather than paying lip-service to ‘green’ initiatives while continuing to hide a dirty side that should not be there?