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December 19, 2003

New indictments in Norway pollution case

Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and Marcos Daniel Jimenez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, yesterday announced the indictment of three senior cruise ship engineers by a federal grand jury in Miami, Florida, for their role in concealing the overboard dumping of waste oil from the SS Norway cruise ship in false log books designed to deceive the United States Coast Guard. The defendants, Chief Engineers Knut Sorboe and Peter Solemdal, Senior First Engineer Aage Lokkebraten are Norwegian nationals who were employed by Norwegian Cruise Line Limited (NCL) at the time of the offenses.

NCL, one of the world's largest cruise lines, previously pled guilty, in a plea agreement announced on July 31, 2002. It paid a $1 million criminal fine and $500,000 in community service in connection with the case. At that time the Justice Department said that until 1998, the SS Norway had a single Oil Water Separator that was referred to by the engineers as "an old piece of junk." Other equipment was used to dump the waste directly overboard. Even after a new and second Oil Water Separator was purchased, ship engineers continued to circumvent the pollution prevention machine until May 2000, when NCL's new owners stopped the practice. Ship officers continued to pollute and maintain false records despite the prominent display in the engine room of newspaper articles about the prosecution of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. for similar violations. NCL financially benefitted by not expending the resources necessary to maintain its pollution prevention equipment, failing to properly offload waste oil in port and not purchasing adequate equipment in the first place, according to papers filed in the 2002 plea agreement.

The government's investigation began when a former NCL engineer made allegations to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Environmental Protection Agency. NCL learned of the tip and discovered environmental violations during an internal audit. The cruise line's outside auditor actually witnessed NCL engineers aboard the SS Norway in the act of circumventing the ship's Oil Water Separator, a required pollution prevention device. The engineers deliberately used fresh water to trick a machine's oil sensor designed to detect and limit the overboard discharges. NCL reported the criminal conduct to the government, which was already investigating the whistle-blower's tip, and has cooperated in the government's investigation.

The new charges announced yesterday, "are necessary to show both companies and individuals operating and managing ships that they may not pollute our oceans and lie to our government," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"Corporations do not act alone but through the acts of individuals and they must also be held accountable. This prosecution demonstrates the continuing commitment of the United States Attorney's Office to aggressively prosecute environmental crimes," said Marcos Daniel Jimenez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida

Prosecutors said that U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard awarded the whistle-blower $250,000 under a bounty provision established by Congress in the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships which allows for a reward of up to one-half of the criminal fine for those providing information leading to conviction.

The indictment announced yesterday alleges that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to use false Oil Record Books in order to conceal overboard discharges from the SS Norway without the use of a properly functioning Oil Water Separator and in order to obstruct Coast Guard inspections. The Oil Record Book is a required pollution record that is regularly inspected and relied upon by the Coast Guard.

The investigation was conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division; Coast Guard Investigative Service; United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Miami-Dade Police Department Environmental Investigations Unit; and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Law Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida and the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice with the assistance of the EPA Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel.

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