Carnival cruise ships face possible ban from US ports for allegedly violating probation

A federal judge in Miami moved to ban Carnival Corporation from docking its ships at U.S. ports, accusing the company of violating probation by prepping ships before audits, falsifying records, dumping plastic into the ocean and illegally discharging gray water at a national park.

The cruise line completed two years of a five-year probation that begin in April 2017 and was part of a $40 million settlement for illegally dumping oil into the ocean from its Princess Cruise ships for eight years and lying about its actions to U.S. officials, court documents state. The probation mandated a third-party auditor inspect ships owned by Carnival and its subsidiaries.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz announced Wednesday that she will hold a final hearing in June on whether she will block Carnival ships from U.S. ports and requested the company chairman Micky Arison and president Donald Arnold be in attendance, according to The Miami Herald.

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"The people at the top are treating this as a gnat," Seitz said. "If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center for a couple of days. It's amazing how that helps people come to focus on reality."

The Holland America Westerdam in Juneau, Alaska. 

The Holland America Westerdam in Juneau, Alaska.  (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Prosecutors allege that Carnival created a program to eliminate negative audit findings, citing internal emails between Carnival subsidiaries that reference a practice of prepping ships before auditors came aboard.

"It would be really important to go onboard on August 12 for one week in order to have time to manage issues before the audits and avoid findings," one email from Carnival's German-based cruise line AIDA Cruises said. An additional email from Carnival's Seattle-based Holland America Line listed “prevent audit findings" as a goal at the start of 2018.

"It appears there were some mischaracterizations made by others to the court,” Carnival, which controls nine cruise brands and 102 ships, said in a statement after the hearing. "We intend to fully address the issues raised at today's court conference."

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Auditors also found that Carnival Corp. regularly falsified records. In September 2018, an engineer working on Holland America's Westerdam ship manipulated records to make it seem as if the ship cleaned and tested equipment when it had not been. The same ship allegedly also illegally disposed of 6,000 gallons of grey water in Glacier Bay National Park in September 2018, court documents stated.

The final probation violation cited by prosecutors involved Carnival’s Elation ship that allegedly failed to separate plastic from food and dumped plastic waste overboard during an audit in December 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.