Carnival Corporation is making progress on its environmental record, but still has a ways to go, a federal judge said Wednesday.
As Carnival Corporation faces a financial shortfall, the company is still on probation for environmental crimes. The company's executives were back in front of U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz Wednesday for a hearing in the case, which began in 2016, when it pleaded guilty to dumping oily waste into the ocean for eight years and covering it up. The company began its fourth year out of five on probation in May.
Previous hearings have focused on how to curb the company's ongoing environmental violations for dumping other illegal substances into the ocean including plastics and sewage. Since the company has had to shut down its passenger operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has taken an interest in how it will keep working toward preventing pollution as it prepares to begin operations again during an unprecedented financial downturn.
On Wednesday Seitz warned about ensuring "that there would be no corners cut notwithstanding the financial issues."
The company is making progress to limit food waste on board and improve how it is discharged. Seitz said she was impressed with CEO Arnold Donald's tone and understanding of the importance of continuing to make progress with environmental compliance even as the company struggles to stay afloat with very little revenue coming in. Still, she said, the company has a long way to go, most crucially on improving its internal investigation department.
"I wish we were farther along," she said. "I am concerned with the consistent type of problems that we have that reflect systemic issues rather than just individual issues. How are we ensuring that the company has in place a robust, functioning system so that it can succeed without the training wheels of the court watching everything?"
The company has been without a head of its investigation department since June 1 when it let go of Sandra Rowlett, who joined in September 2019 from the National Transportation Safety Board. Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Pete Anderson said the department wasn't making enough progress to improve root cause analysis in its investigations. He's looking for a new person for the job.
"We weren't making the progress we wanted to make," he said. "I'm personally involved in exploring options to replace with a new leader."
With recent cuts to staffing to shrink expenditures, the department is down to five investigators, a decrease from eight at the end of last year. But the company is seeing fewer environmental incidents reported, said Gerry Ellis, vice president in charge of health, safety and security compliance. The company currently has a backlog of 23 investigations, and 17 of those are less than four months old, Ellis said.
In April, Seitz urged company executives to use the cruising hiatus to shore up its environmental processes so that when it returns to operations, it can prevent some of the repeated violations noted by the court-appointed monitor over the last three years. On Wednesday, she called for more concrete deadlines and greater accountability for completing tasks.
Carnival Corp. has repatriated 80,000 of its crew members, with 2,500 still waiting to go home. At the last court hearing in late April, the company still had 72,000 crew members and 100 passengers to repatriate. The company is planning to resume cruises in Germany on its AIDA Cruises ships on Aug. 5.
In its quarterly report submitted to the court last week, Carnival Corp. argued that topics such as public health and diversity are outside of the court-appointed monitor's scope and urged the oversight to stick to environmental violations.
Seitz said the company's compliance failures are systemic.
"I saw that and quite frankly I'm going to ignore it," she said. "That's the appropriate response to that."
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