Top Cruise Line Docked $18 Million for Pollution

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The sleek and powerful cruise line industry has run into very choppy American legal waters. On Wednesday, Attorney General Janet Reno announced that Royal Caribbean Cruises, the world’s second largest cruise company, had agreed to pay a record $18 million in fines as part of a guilty plea to 21 felony counts of dumping waste oil and hazardous chemicals from its ships. The company "polluted the very environment on which its business relies," said Reno. "They dumped everywhere: at sea, in port, at sensitive environmental areas." The fines are the stiffest ever to be levied on a cruise line for polluting U.S. waters and they come on top of a $9 million fine Royal Caribbean agreed to pay in Miami on previous charges of illegal dumping.

"This is yet another example of how cruise lines, who fly under foreign flags, are finally coming under U.S. legal scrutiny," says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak. This week’s shot across the industry’s bow comes on top of a private lawsuit that last week torpedoed an embarrassing hole into Carnival, the number one cruise line. In court papers stemming from a rape complaint filed by a former crew member, Carnival, according to the New York Times, acknowledged that its crew members had been accused of sexually assaulting passengers and other staffers 62 times since 1993, prompting the company to investigate. The papers did not reveal the outcome of the cases. "A focus on cruise lines is overdue," says Novak. Meanwhile, some congressman are pressing for a more aggressive exercise of federal commercial and maritime jurisdiction. With Wednesday’s announcement, the Justice Department signaled it is ready and willing to take a tough stand.