SHIPS CAUGHT DUMPING WASTE A record $9 million fine against Royal Caribbean for dumping oily waste into the ocean has raised awareness about a serious problem in the booming cruise line industry. After a four-year investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and Justice Department, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice last June.

The company admitted to a conspiracy to rig pipes to bypass anti-pollution equipment, which is expensive to operate, saving the company millions of dollars. A month after Royal Caribbean, a Liberian corporation with headquarters in Miami, promised to clean up its act, another of its ships was caught discharging waste and falsifying records.

Royal Caribbean is not alone. According to the New York Times, in recent years other cruise lines have been fined at least six times for dumping oil and garbage. Last summer, the Holland America Line, a division of Carnival Corp., pleaded guilty to dumping in Alaska's Inside Passage and was fined $2 million.

Meeting planners who want to check a cruise line's environmental record will have to file a freedom of information request with the Coast Guard. But a clean record there shows only that a cruise line has not been caught dumping in U.S. waters.

In her 16 years of booking ships for meetings and incentives, says Joyce Landry, president of Landry & Kling Corporate Cruises, she has never been asked by a client if a cruise line has a history of polluting. "No one thought that anyone would not comply" with environmental laws, she says. "More important to them are safety standards, particularly for emergencies and food service."

Landry says she won't be surprised if she starts getting questions about the subject in light of the Royal Caribbean case. "It was one of those issues that was in the closet until this erupted," she says. "I think it woke some people up."

In a public statement last June, Royal Caribbean President Jack Williams said, "These acts were wrong and totally inexcusable. We are doing everything we can to operate our ships above and beyond compliance."

Royal Caribbean says it has instituted new training programs, stationed environmental officers on each ship, hired a senior vice president to oversee environmental compliance, and installed new water filtering systems on each ship.