Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the world's second-largest passenger cruise line, was fined $6.5 million on Oct. 21 for dumping oily bilge water and other pollutants into Alaskan waters.
"I find the circumstances of this case truly egregious," U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said in handing down the sentence. "What happened is inexcusable. A company this big, with this many resources, should be able to avoid, to weed out the kind of behavior that occurred here."
Sedwick placed the Miami-based cruise line on five years' probation and ordered Royal Caribbean to adhere to stringent environmental oversight, within the company and on every cruise ship. Quarterly reports are to be filed to several federal agencies, including the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The court suspended $3 million of the fine in return for prompt payment of the remainder, a U.S. attorney said later.
Jack Williams, president of Royal Caribbean International, appeared before Sedwick to say he agreed with the court. "I have said publicly on a number of occasions since this case unfolded that these acts are inexcusable, they were wrong, and they never should have happened. I truly believe that as I sit here today in this court," Williams said.
He said he had talked with many local residents at recent town meetings in the southeast Alaska communities of Skagway, Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan. "The purpose of those meetings for me personally as the president of this company was, first, to let the people of Alaska know how profoundly sorry we are that these incidents took place," Williams said. The second purpose was to begin telling people what the company had done to make sure such behavior would not be tolerated again, he said.
Sedwick ordered the cruise line to pay $2 million of its fine to the National Parks Foundation and $1 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, for use on environmental projects and initiatives stated in a plea agreement.
On condition that those funds are paid immediately and an additional $500,000 goes to the U.S. Treasury, the court agreed to suspend $3 million of its fine, Robert C. Bundy, U.S. attorney for Alaska, said.
An attorney for Royal Caribbean said the fine was paid on Oct. 21.
In a plea agreement filed in July with six judicial districts, Royal Caribbean, a Liberian corporation, agreed to plead guilty
to 21 counts and pay a total criminal fine of $18 million. The criminal conduct involved pollution by Royal Caribbean cruise ships calling on Alaska, California, Florida, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
An investigation into the fleet began in Puerto Rico in 1994 when Coast Guard officials noticed Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of Seas coming into port trailing an oil sheen. Royal Caribbean admitted last year it had routinely dumped oil from its ships, and it agreed to implement a court-supervised program to improve its procedures.
Attorney General Janet Reno told a Justice Department news conference in Washington in July that "Royal Caribbean used our nation's waters as its dumping ground even as it promoted itself as an environmentally green company." Reno added, "If people flimflam us, they should expect the consequences."