HAL enters guily plea in sewage discharge case
HAL Maritime Ltd ("HAL"), an Operating Company of Holland America Line Cruise Ships, has agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges arising out of the negligent discharge of 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage into Juneau harbor from the cruise ship Ryndam in August 2002.
A staement issued yesyerday by Rear Admiral James C. Olson, Commander 17th United States Coast Guard District, Timothy Burgess, United States Attorney for the District of Alaska, and Thomas V. Skinner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), noted that The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska filed criminal charges against HAL under a federal law passed in 2000 that makes it a crime for cruise ships to discharge untreated sewage into the waters surrounding Alaska.
Seeking to resolve the federal charges, HAL entered into a plea agreement with the United States in which it accepts responsibility for causing 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage to be discharged from the cruise ship Ryndam while it was docked in Juneau on August 17, 2002.
HAL has admitted that the discharge was caused by its failure to implement adequate operational controls, impose proper training requirements, and develop thorough response measures to prevent, timely detect and properly report the release of untreated sewage.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, HAL will plead guilty to negligently discharging untreated sewage and pay the statutory maximum $200,000 fine. HAL will also perform community restitution by paying an additional $500,000 to the National Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization, for use in reducing the amount of untreated sewage and other pollutants that enter the watersheds and coastal environment of Southeast Alaska.
In addition to a fine and community service, the plea agreement also requires HAL to spend an additional $1.3 million to implement a Focused Environmental Compliance Plan that mandates new environmental safeguards, improved systems and more comprehensive training onboard all of Holland America's fleet of cruise ships.
Under the Compliance Plan, independent auditors will be hired to evaluate and monitor the operations of all of Holland America's cruise ships and to report problems to the United States.
After pleading guilty, Holland America will be placed on probation, and be under the further supervision of the United States Probation Office, for a term of three years.
The investigation into the incident began when a local Juneau citizen reported observing a suspicious discharge from a cruise ship on the evening of August 17, 2002. The discharge was reported to the ship but the crew failed to properly respond, according to the plea agreement.
When the discharge continued, investigators from both the United States Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation were contacted and quickly responded to begin an investigation into the cause of the discharge. Joined by agents from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a team of investigators and prosecutors worked together to conduct a comprehensive investigation into how the discharged occurred, why it continued, and how the crew responded.
United States Attorney Burgess said "My office is committed to enforcing the environmental laws to insure the health and safety of the people Alaska and to preserve the pristine nature of our coastal environment."
Rear Admiral James C. Olson stated "The Coast Guard's marine safety mission can be best summarized as 'protecting people from the sea, and the sea from people.' We all need to continue working as a team to ensure Alaska's waters remain clean."
EPA Acting Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Thomas V. Skinner said "We are committed to protecting Alaska's irreplaceable marine environment. We will not allow marine industries to foul our waters. In addition to paying a significant fine, HAL will be required to improve the wastewater systems on all its ships to help prevent future violations."
The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office in Alaska, in conjunction with EPA regional counsel. Holland America is scheduled to plead guilty in this case on December 13, 2004 at 11:00 am in Federal Court in Juneau
The Criminal Information, Plea Agreement and Compliance Plan are on file with the United States District Court, Alaska, Case No. J04-0005 (PMP).
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