Ocean Dumping

Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act in 1972 (PL 92-532) to regulate intentional ocean disposal of materials and to authorize research. Title 1 of the act, known as the Ocean Dumping Act, contains permit and enforcement provisions for ocean dumping. Four federal agencies have authority under the act—the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Title 1 prohibits all ocean dumping, except that allowed by permits, in any ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction by any U.S. vessel or by any vessel sailing from a U.S. port. The act bans dumping of radiological, chemical, and biological warfare agents, high-level radioactive waste, and medical wastes. In 1997 Congress amended the act to ban dumping of municipal sewage sludge and industrial waste.

The act authorizes the EPA to assess civil penalties of up to $50,000 for each violation, as well as criminal penalties (seizure and forfeiture of vessels). For dumping of medical wastes the act authorizes civil penalties of up to $125,000, criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in prison, or both.

In July 1999 the world's second-largest cruise line pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges of dumping oil and hazardous chemicals in U.S. waters and lying about it to the Coast Guard. Royal Caribbean agreed to pay a record $18-million fine, the largest ever paid by a cruise line for polluting waters, in addition to the $9 million in criminal fines the company agreed to pay in a previous plea agreement. Six other cruise lines have pleaded guilty to illegal waste dumping since 1993 and have paid fines ranging up to $1 million. The cases have focused attention on the difficulties of regulating the fast-growing cruise line industry in which most major ships sailing out of U.S. ports are registered in foreign countries.

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