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“Magic Pipe” conjures polluting activities off the coast of Britain

It is not often that the venerable New York Times reports on marine matters relating to the coast of Britain. In its issue of 2 December 2016, the Times reports on the US$40m fine to be paid by Princess Cruise Lines after it pleaded guilty to a number of felony charges following the dumping by employees of oiled waste. In a statement issued by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, it was reported that employees of the “CARIBBEAN PRINCESS” used several tactics, including a conduit known as the “magic pipe”, to get around water-cleaning mechanisms and devices meant to monitor oil levels, and thereby dump grey water directly into the marine environment.

The practices appear to have begun in 2005 and persisted until August 2013, when a whistle-blower on the “CARIBBEAN PRINCESS” observed more than 4,000 gallons of contaminated discharge being released into the ocean off the coast of England and then reported the occurrence to the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency before promptly quitting his job when the ship put in at Southampton. The Court heard that the chief engineer and senior first engineer then ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie. Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the US Department of Justice observed that “the pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship…it reflects very poorly on Princess’s culture and management.”

This case demonstrates well that maritime and justice agencies are prepared to work across jurisdictions in pursuing marine polluters and is a reminder, if any were needed, of the needless risks that vessel operators will expose themselves and the vessel owners to in the event that illegal discharges are made into the marine environment.

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