Caribbean Princess visiting Bar Harbor. The cruise ship discharged oily bilge water off the coast of England, eventually leading to a $40 million fine from the Department of Justice. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Cruise exec fields discharge queries

BAR HARBOR — A recent legal settlement about improper discharge of oily bilge water was discussed when a senior official with Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Princess Cruise Lines, visited the town Cruise Ship Committee last week. That company’s ships are frequent visitors to Mount Desert Island.

Tom Dow, vice president of public affairs for Carnival, said the investigation into the August 2013 incident off the coast of England took three years, but the company began taking corrective action immediately.

“We’re confident – and the Department of Justice is confident – that we haven’t had a similar occurrence in the last four years.”

Cruise committee member Chris Maller asked if there had been environmental remediation or any study of the environmental impact of the 2013 incident, in which 4,000 gallons of oily bilge water was discharged offshore.

There was no impact study or remediation, Dow said, but there was no observed “kill” of marine life or other problems. The discharge was more than 15 parts per million petroleum, which is the threshold for a “discernable sheen” on the water’s surface.

Committee member Darron Collins asked about other incidents before 2013. “Everything I’ve read says it was a persistent problem between 2008 and 2013.”

Court documents filed in connection with the investigation state the ship Caribbean Princess had been illegally discharging pollutants by various methods since 2005, the year after the ship was launched.

“We’re not saying it was a one-time event,” Dow said, but the company had the best evidence from the 2013 incident thanks to a whistleblower on the ship’s crew.

The deal includes a $40 million fine, the largest criminal penalty ever to be imposed involving the intentional discharge of pollution from a vessel, according to the DOJ. Dow noted that the deal still needs to be approved by a judge.

The company also is subject to a five-year environmental compliance program including unannounced regular inspections on vessels in the Carnival fleet, which includes the Cunard, Holland America and AIDA lines, as well as Princess ships.

Harbormaster Charlie Phippen said the town’s water quality monitoring program around cruise ships has not included testing for petroleum, but he thinks the monitoring team and other mariners would have noticed oily sheen if a bilge water discharge had occurred in Bar Harbor.

“We get calls if there’s a few drops from a hydraulic hose on a companionway,” he said.

Collins suggested the committee have follow-up conversations on this issue in the future.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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