Alaska filed a civil suit on Aug. 13 against Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL)
, accusing the company of dumping oil and other hazardous wastes into state waters after the firm pleaded guilty to federal criminal pollution charges.
Royal Caribbean pleaded guilty last month and was fined $18 million for 21 felony counts of violating federal water pollution laws in areas ranging from the Caribbean to Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Attorney General Bruce Botelho said the state filed a civil case in Superior Court in Juneau because Royal Caribbean’s previous guilty pleas precluded Alaska from lodging its own criminal case against the firm for dumping oil, photo chemicals and other wastes into Juneau’s harbor and other state waters.
The state has a law that protects defendants against double jeopardy in cases where other jurisdictions have prosecuted over the same incidents and using the same facts, Botelho said. “That has basically limited us in the Royal Caribbean case to look at civil charges,” he added.
Of the $18 million the company pledged to pay in fines, $6.5 million covered violations that occurred in Alaska waters in 1994 and 1995.
Alaska may be the only state involved in the federal case that has the ability to pursue civil charges against Royal Caribbean because the company’s Alaska violations
occurred within state territorial waters, Botelho said. Some of the violations occurred within Juneau’s city harbor, according to the federal settlement.
The state lawsuit alleges seven counts of violating laws governing oil and hazardous-waste disposal. Under state law, Royal Caribbean could face fines of $100,000 plus penalties of $10,000 per violation per day. Botelho said the fines could add up into the millions of dollars.
Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan said revelation of the Royal Caribbean violations has hardened attitudes in his city about the regulation of cruise ships.
The ships this summer will deposit about 600,000 passengers into Alaska’s capital city, up from 250,000 in 1990, he said. Those growing crowds have raised concerns about traffic, noise from aircraft ferrying passengers to sightseeing spots and public costs, as well as water and air pollution, Egan said.
The Royal Caribbean dumping case has “virtually guaranteed” that Juneau voters in October will approve a $5-per-passenger head tax on cruise ship passengers, Egan said. The question was put on the ballot by citizen petition.
Last month, after the federal settlement was announced, Egan fired off an angry letter to Royal Caribbean President
Jack Williams demanding an apology to Juneau residents.
In response, Williams told Egan in a letter last week: “Our goal as a company, and mine as president, is to build the most environmentally responsible fleet and the most environmentally sensitive work force in the industry.”