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The new owners of Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line say their recently acquired subsidiary committed numerous environmental violations aboard several of its ships, an accusation that has triggered an investigation by federal authorities. A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Washington said it is working with the U.S. attorney’s office in investigating Star Cruise’s allegations, and referred a reporter to the Miami prosecutors for comment. At the U.S. attorney’s office, a spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. But Robert Kritzman, NCL’s senior vice president and general counsel, said there’s an “ongoing investigation, both internally and by the government.” According to a terse statement released by NCL in May, which drew almost no public attention, a “pattern of violations of environmental law on several of its ships” was reported to authorities following a “detailed internal review initiated by new management” after Star Cruises, Asia’s largest cruise operator, took control of Oslo-based NCL Holding ASA in February. NCL spokeswoman Fran Sevcik offered no comment Monday beyond the press release, which stated that “management has acted immediately to halt the infractions and has commenced a comprehensive remedial program to ensure there will be no repeat of the problem.” Blowing the whistle on its subsidiary was a wise move on Star’s part, in the opinion of one expert. “The best defense is an offense, and these people [at Star] are saying, ‘Look at what they [NCL Holding] have done,’” said Alexander Anolik, a San Francisco lawyer and author of The Law and the Travel Industry. “They say, ‘We’re going to get nailed, so let’s blame it on the old [management] and say how clean we are.’ “ Just what the nature of the violations is, neither NCL, the Coast Guard nor the prosecutors will disclose. The company’s release alleges a pattern of violations that “commenced well before the change of control” in February. That would put it under the reign of NCL president and CEO Geir Aune, who left his job earlier this year, after five years. Aune sued NCL for his $2 million severance package, which he says he was cheated out of when he was ousted from the company. Norwegian contends Aune was not fired, but that his title was changed to executive vice president after NCL Holding was purchased by Star. Aune, who was president and CEO of the parent entity and a director of both companies, claims in the suit that he is not permitted to visit NCL’s offices in Norway or Miami. Aune took the helm at NCL in June 1995 when he and Kristian Siem put together a plan to bring the ailing cruise line back to profitability. Siem and Aune succeeded. In the first quarter of 1999, operating income grew to $10.6 million, up from only $1 million in the previous year’s quarter. Aune did not return calls to his Miami Beach residence, and his attorney, Michael Hanzman, declined to comment. “You don’t know at what level within the company this took place,” said International Council of Cruise Lines vice president Michael Crye. “So I don’t know what to say about Aune. But it does say something about the current management.” In confessing to U.S. authorities, Star probably hopes to end up with only civil penalties instead of criminal charges, cruise line law expert Anolik said. Competitor Royal Caribbean last year pleaded guilty to three felony charges of making false statements to the Coast Guard about dumping oily waste into the sea. Royal Caribbean faced fines of up to $1.5 million for lying, after already paying $9 million in fines for the dumping. NCL may make out better. “I would think that the Coast Guard would reward a cruise line that does the responsible thing,” said Miami maritime attorney Jeffrey Maltzman, “who comes forward and acknowledges that mistakes have been made.” One Coast Guard officer called NCL’s turning itself in a “success story.” “The cruise lines realize that they are under the microscope and any pollution is no good,” said Capt. Mike Rosecrans in Jacksonville, Fla. “They are trying to be model citizens. They reported themselves and they didn’t try to hide it, and they set a tone for the rest of their employees.” Typically, environmental violations are dealt with under the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 or the CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act), said maritime attorney and former Coast Guard officer Chip Birthisel. Violations of some of the environmental statutes can be criminal, but “the government is going to look a heck of a lot more kindly if they [NCL] come to them and say, ‘We did it. Period.’ “

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