[By Heather Francey]

Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. (Princess) is facing an unprecedented US $40 million fine for dumping oil-contaminated waste into the ocean and deliberately covering it up. The company is one of 10 cruise ship brands owned by Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise ship operator.

In August 2013, a whistleblower reported to U.K. authorities that a “magic pipe” was in use on a Princess ship to illegally discharge over 15,000 litres of oily waste off the coast of England. An examination of the ship in question was conducted upon its return to the U.S., during which crew members lied to cover up the truth as per instruction from Princess’s senior level engineers.

“It reflects very poorly on Princess’ culture and management,” said John Cruden, assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). “This is a company that knew better and should have done better.”

The investigation that ensued uncovered that the ship had been making illegal discharges since 2005. According to the U.S. DOJ, engineers on board had been running clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment to create a false record for inspectors (sound familiar, Volkswagen?).  Further, the U.S. DOJ found that this was not an isolated incident and that four other Princess ships had been conducting unlawful disposal activities for some time.

“If you’re earning two and a half billion dollars, $40 million is just pocket change. I think the greatest cost to Princess and the Carnival Corporation is the PR value and the tarnishing of their image,” said Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland.

To prevent the Princess brand from becoming as polluted as our oceans now are, Princess went full steam ahead to get its crisis communications underway. The company issued an immediate statement on December 1, 2016 after the U.S. DOJ’s decision was publicized. President, Jan Swartz, used the following key messages in her statement:

  1. Princess apologizes for its actions and for not having fully effective policies and procedures in place at the time of the incident.
  2. Over the past three years, Princess has implemented numerous corrective measures to improve oversight and accountability.
  3. The marine environment is incredibly important to Princess and the company stands committed to protecting our oceans.

On its website, Princess explains in detail, supplementing with infographics and pictures, the corrective actions the company has undertaken since 2013 to rectify its transgressions.

Here’s hoping for smooth (and environmentally-friendly) sailing in Princess’s future.

(Photo by Linval Ebanks via Unsplash)