Victims of cruise giant Carnival Corporation’s environmental crimes appeal judge’s decision

Victims of cruise giant Carnival Corporation’s environmental crimes appeal judge’s decision

Monday June 17, 2019

Bahamas, Alaska residents impacted by Carnival’s criminal pollution ask for 11th Circuit to uphold their rights under the Crime Victims Rights Act

MIAMI, FLORIDA — Four individuals harmed by Carnival’s environmental crimes filed an appeal on Monday, June 17, in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals stem from the decision made earlier this month by a federal judge in Miami to accept a backroom plea deal between Carnival and the Justice Department without any review or participation from those impacted by the crimes. Under the terms of the deal, Carnival Corporation would pay $20M in fines for its cruise ship pollution stemming from multiple probation violations from a 2016 criminal conviction on seven felony counts. The individuals are seeking judicial review according to the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

The victims include Fotini “Sam” Tsavousis Duncombe, a Bahamian citizen and co-founder of Bahamian-based environmental group reEarth; Theodore Thoma, the president of Responsible Cruising in Alaska; and Ronn Buschmann and Eric Forrer, who are both Alaska residents and retired commercial fishermen. 

The victims are asking the 11th Circuit to review United States District Court Judge Patricia Seitz’s decision that the victims did not meet the standard of ‘victim’ under the Crime Victims' Rights Act — a decision made without evidentiary inquiry, findings of fact, or explanation. The CVRA guarantees crime victims the rights to confer before the government settles criminal charges, and to be heard before the court considers such a settlement.

The victims filed their original emergency motion on May 31 to intervene in the court proceedings ahead of a scheduled June 3 hearing, asking the federal district court to recognize their right to participate in the case. The victims’ comments recounted the impacts Carnival Corporation’s pollution has had on their livelihoods and quality of life, and they asked the judge to carefully consider these effects when weighing an appropriate punishment.

“Since the inception of the Individual Fishery Quota system of harvest management, the total allowable catch has decreased by more than 60 percent. While Carnival’s practice of pollution is not the only problem, it is a direct, visible degradation of the very habitat from which we harvest ocean protein for human consumption. Harvest numbers and species-health studies are proof that my cohort of commercial fishermen and I have been economically harmed by cruise ship pollution,” said Eric Forrer, a retired Alaska fisherman with 40 seasons of experience in Stevens Passage and western Icy Strait — waters frequented by Carnival’s ships and where some of their violations occurred. “I take my sense of place and life from the healthy, vibrant environment in which I live and work, and Carnival’s deliberate pollution and degradation is the equivalent of stamping out their corporate cigarette on the floor of my cathedral. The decision to deny our standing to participate in this case is blind to the reality of our lives."

The court has 72 hours to respond to the appeal and reconsider the dismissal of the victims. The victims are represented by Smith & Lowney PLLC in Seattle, Washington.

“Tossing out citizens who have observed cruise ship pollution in Alaska makes no sense.  We deserve to be heard. For years, many of us who work on the marine waters of Alaska have witnessed dumping waste into our marine waters and smoke blanketing the air where we work. We’ve been harmed and continue to be hurt by Carnival Corporation’s actions. They’re using dirty fuel and 'scrubbing' the waste from this lousy fuel to save a few bucks and then dumping the sludge in our oceans,” said Ronn Buschmann, a retired commercial fisherman from Petersburg, Alaska.

“American citizens value clean air and clean water. That’s why Congress passed laws protecting our nation’s water and air resources. Just because Carnival Corporation operates their cruise vessels under the Panamanian flag — or some other flag-of-convenience — that doesn’t give them the right to dump in Glacier Bay or the waters of our country. American’s are mad about Carnival’s dumping. We’ve been harmed and deserve to be heard,” said Theodore “Chip” Thoma, President of Responsible Cruising in Alaska.

The appeal is supported by international environmental organization Stand.earth, which called the judge’s ruling a "slap on the wrist" with little regard for the communities and individuals who are impacted by cruise ship pollution.

“There was a lot of talk in this case about taking significant legal action to ensure Carnival Corporation ends its criminal behavior. That must include the meaningful participation of the victims of those crimes. Instead, the communities and individuals impacted by Carnival’s environmental crimes were excluded and dismissed without any explanation, and Carnival got away with yet another backroom deal that cannot even be characterized as a slap on the wrist. The judge’s ruling was a betrayal of the public trust, and failed the victims in every regard. Stand wholly supports the victims’ decision to appeal,”  said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Shipping Campaigner at Stand.earth.

Background on Stand.earth

Stand.earth leads the international Clean Up Carnival campaign calling on Carnival Corporation to clean up its environmental practices, including ending its use of one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on Earth — heavy fuel oil. In January 2019, Stand.earth released a study commissioned from a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health faculty member showing that air pollution on the decks of Carnival ships can be as bad or worse than some of the world’s most polluted cities.

Stand has also been actively engaged at the UN International Maritime Organization to push for an end to the use of heavy fuel oil in the sensitive Arctic ecosystem as well as ending the use of scrubbers — or exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) — as an alternative compliance mechanism to cleaner fuel for air pollution control. Dozens of violations in Carnival’s current case related to failures of EGCS for a variety of reasons. 

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Media contacts:

Virginia Cleaveland, Stand.earth, media@stand.earth, +1 510 858 9902 (US) or +1 778 984 3994 (Canada)

Knoll Lowney, Smith & Lowney PLLC, knoll@smithandlowney.com,  +1 206 650 1044

Contact info for victims is available upon request