SANTA CLARITA, Calif., Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Princess Cruise Lines has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges and to pay $40 million in penalties for intentionally polluting the ocean, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.
The company agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges for illegally dumping 4,227 gallons of oily waste 23 miles off the coast of Britain on Aug. 23, 2013, within the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.
Officials launched an investigation after an engineer on the Caribbean Princess ship, which belongs to Princess Cruise Lines, a Carnival Corporation subsidiary, reported to authorities that the ship's crew was using an illicit pipe to discharge waste.
After the engineer reported the incident, the ship's senior engineers "ordered a coverup, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Eight Carnival subsidiaries will be audited for the next five years by a court-supervised Environmental Compliance Program as part of the plea deal.
"The pollution in this case was the result of more than just bad actors on one ship," Justice Department Environment and Natural Resources Division Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said in a statement. "It reflects very poorly on Princess's culture and management. This is a company that knew better and should have done better. Hopefully the outcome of this case has the potential not just to chart a new course for this company, but for other companies as well."
The Caribbean Princess is accused of illegally discharging waste since 2005. Four other ships were also found to have taken illegal means of polluting the ocean.
"A perceived motive for the crimes was financial -- the chief engineer that ordered the dumping off the coast of England told subordinate engineers that it cost too much to properly offload the waste in port and that the shore-side superintendent who he reported to would not want to pay the expense," the Justice Department wrote.
In a statement, Princess Cruise Lines said it has implemented corrective measures since 2013 to improve "oversight and accountability."
"We are extremely disappointed about the inexcusable actions of our employees who violated our policies and environmental law when they bypassed our bilge water treatment system and discharged untreated bilge water into the ocean," Princess Cruise Lines said in the statement. "Although we had policies and procedures in place, it became apparent they were not fully effective. We are very sorry that this happened and have taken additional steps to ensure we meet or exceed all environmental requirements."
The plea agreement must be approved by a federal court.