Document Type

Case Note


On July 21, 1999, the United States Department of Justice announced a record $18 million settlement with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (RCCL) ending criminal cases for environmental law violations against the company pending in six federal district courts in five different circuits. Anticipating its impact, former Attorney General Janet Reno stated: "This case will sound like a foghorn throughout the entire maritime industry." This settlement followed one for $9 million in June 1998 with RCCL for similar violations in two jurisdictions. Reno's statement rings true, and does so beyond the simple facts relayed in the press release. Certainly the case was important for establishing a high floor for particularly egregious violations of U.S. anti-pollution laws such as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Clean Water Act. However it is the use of the federal Fraud False Statements Act, (False Statements Act or § 1001), as a basis for criminal charges culminating in the 1998 settlement that portends a real clarion call to the international maritime community. On February 1, 1993, the RCCL-owned cruise ship Nordic Empress was found discharging oil in violation of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships by a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft equipped with special infra-red radar. What makes this situation unique from all other violations charged against the company is that the discharge occurred in the territorial sea of the Bahamas, not the United States. Ordinarily, the United States would have no jurisdiction to prosecute such a crime. To overcome this limitation, however, the United States charged the company solely with a violation of the False Statements Act, to wit, presenting a falsified "Oil Record Book" to Coast Guard officials when the vessel made port in Miami. The court in United States v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. rebuffed all arguments that the United States lacked jurisdiction over this offense, allowing the prosecution to go forward, and ultimately prompting the settlement. This Note examines this use of a domestic law of general applicability to essentially extend State jurisdiction into that of other sovereign States in order to further the aims of conventional international law. Some might argue that by so employing § 1001, the United States ran roughshod over the sovereign rights of both the Nordic Empress's flag State, Liberia, and, to some extent, that of the coastal State damaged by the discharge, the Bahamas. This Note will argue, however, that such applications of domestic law are entirely consistent with the aims of the applicable international treaties and offer a viable means of protecting the marine environment, particularly when flag States themselves are hesitant to act.



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