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Carnival Corp. Agrees To $20 Million Fine For Pollution Violations


A remarkable scene unfolded in a Miami courtroom - the head of the world's largest cruise line company, Carnival, stood before a federal judge and pleaded guilty to six counts of violating probation. Carnival has been on probation for more than two years for environmental violations, including dumping plastics and oily water off Alaska and in the Caribbean. NPR's Greg Allen was in the courtroom yesterday and joins us now. Tell me more, Greg, about what Carnival is accused of.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. Yeah. Well, Carnival's had a long history of violations of dumping plastic trash and oily discharge from its ships. Violations go back to 1993, and they've continued in recent years. Two years ago, Carnival agreed to pay a $40-million fine after one of its ships on the Princess line was caught dumping oily water, and also, they were caught falsifying their books. Judge Seitz placed the company on probation - this is Judge Patricia Seitz in Miami. She told them to clean up its act, and she ordered ongoing audits, inspections to make sure the company's ships comply with environmental laws.

But a court-appointed monitor who's conducting these inspections found that Carnival had actually created a special team that would go to ships beforehand that were due to be inspected and correct things before inspectors arrived. The court also found other instances that they - the company was falsifying records and dumping plastics in the ocean. So all of which convinced the judge yesterday that the company was more interested in protecting its bottom line than the environment, and she said so in court.

MARTIN: What was it like in the courtroom?

ALLEN: Well, the judge is very frustrated with the company - had, you know, brought all the company officials there. We had more than a dozen company officials, including the CEO Arnold Donald, the chairman Micky Arison. Ultimately, the judge approved an agreement by which Carnival pleads guilty to violating probation and pays a $20-million fine. The company will also change its corporate structure to make compliance with environmental regulations a priority, perhaps for the first time. And it says it's going to change how it deals with plastics and food waste, by kind of creating these teams that will go and kind of create whole new systems on the ships. They're going to move to reduce single-use plastics on its ships, they say.

And all this is going to be subject to court supervision. And to convince the judge it's serious this time, Carnival says it's going to have a compliance plan in place by mid-August. And they're going to pay a fine - they've agreed to pay a fine of more than $1 million a day if the plan is not ready by then.

MARTIN: I mean, does that mean they have to pull all their cruise-liners to make those changes?

ALLEN: Well, it's interesting because at at one point, the judge - at an earlier hearing, the judge was so frustrated with Carnival and the fact that they'd continued to violate these - this probation order that she threatened to block Carnival from docking at U.S. ports. She said she was hearing from passengers who are worried about their - their cruises would be canceled.

I think it was all really a sign of the frustration of Judge Patricia Seitz, who's been hearing this case for two years. In court, she says she became convinced that the employees of Carnival wanted to do the right thing on the environment, but it was the company itself, the top executives - including its CEO and the chairman of the board - that she became convinced weren't serious about complying with environmental laws. So that's why she wanted them all there yesterday, and they were.

MARTIN: So what's the next step here?

ALLEN: Well, now they've got this agreement in place. They're going to come up with this plan. I think the judge really wanted to talk to the company's CEO, Arnold Donald, and she lectured him on the need, as she said, to be a steward of the environment. But there are skeptics, like Kendra Ulrich. She's an environmentalist with a group called Stand.earth. Here's what she had to say about it.

KENDRA ULRICH: It is in no way acceptable for a corporate actor to continually get a slap on the wrist and let off the hook. Clearly, these environmental compliance programs are not working.

ALLEN: And Judge Seitz, still skeptical herself, but she says there will be continued court supervision.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Greg Allen, reporting from Miami. Greg, thanks. We appreciate it.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "LLANGOLLEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.