Criminalization of Maritime Casualties Circa 2013

Maritime accidents have a long history of creating environmental and personal property damages, as well as human casualties. Though these accidents have historically been subject only to civil liability, over time incidents like oil spills and passenger-boat casualties have gained more media attention and public outcry, resulting in more frequent criminal prosecutions. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the face of maritime law began to change. Ship officers and crews, as well as shipowners and even multinational corporations, have been increasingly penalized under criminal statutes. Now wrongdoers may find themselves subject to prosecution for manslaughter as well as criminal violations under environmental statutes. The United States Department of Justice has taken an active approach to prosecuting maritime wrongdoers under a myriad of federal environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Act To Prevent Pollution From Ships, and the Refuse Act. This Article presents a discussion of the criminalization of maritime casualties generally, as well as the increase in prosecutions of individuals and companies for maritime environmental crimes.