Tougher sewage rules for cruise ships

Friday » April 27 » 2007
Jail, heavy fines to be maximum penalty for dumping waste close to land

Peter O’Neil, with a file by Jesse Ferreras
Vancouver Sun

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ottawa will introduce tough new penalties next month for cruise ships that illegally dump raw sewage into the sea.
OTTAWA — The federal government, which has declared itself “extremely sensitive” to the pollution risks posed by the fast-growing cruise ship industry, will bring into force next month regulations that could lead to jail sentences and fines of up to $1 million for violators that illegally dump raw sewage close to land.

“Protecting the environment is a priority for Transport Canada, and these regulations will mean big things for the industry,” spokeswoman Kirsten Goodnough said Thursday.

Maximum penalty for violation of the proposed regulations under the Canada Shipping Act is a fine of up to $1 million, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, testifying before a Senate committee, was urged by B.C. Tory Senator Pat Carney to enact the new rules before the start of the 2007 cruise ship season.

The industry is currently only covered by voluntary guidelines on waste-dumping.

Cruise ships bring “$1 billion worth of economic activity but thousands of people generating waste,” Carney told the minister, who was testifying before the Senate standing committee on transport and communications.

“I would ask you, as soon as possible, to announce when those new regulations will be posted and put into effect, because the coastal communities want them before the cruise ship season starts.”

Cannon said he was briefed on the issue during a recent visit to B.C.

“I am extremely sensitive to the arguments being put forth here,” Cannon told Carney.

“We just cannot use our waters as a dumping area for sewage.”

The draft regulations were made public last year as part of a consultation process. The final version will come into force next month, Goodnough said.

The new regulations are expected to mirror the voluntary guidelines, which prohibit the discharge of sewage within three miles of land unless it is being transferred directly into an approved treatment plant.

Discharges within three to 12 miles must be “broken down, diluted and disinfected prior to discharge,” according to Transport Canada.

The government said the “vast majority” of cruise ships have on-board sewage control systems, and notes on the Transport Canada website say that the industry “has reported a high rate of compliance with the guidelines.”

Goodnough said she doesn’t have data that indicates whether some companies have not complied.

A West Coast industry spokesman said cruise ship firms welcome the new rules because they’ll result in Canada being consistent with other jurisdictions.

“What I am concerned about is the image that the words from Ms. Carney and others are portraying, that somehow there’s something unhealthy or bad for the environment that’s going on out here,” said North West CruiseShip Association president John Hansen.

He said all 27 Canadian and U.S. vessels represented by his association have advanced waste water treatment systems “that are in fact far in excess of any land treatment systems that I’m aware of here in B.C.”

Hansen added that he didn’t think new regulations would affect cruise ship operations because companies are already aware of regulations and are highly regulated everywhere.

Until now, Transport Canada had only voluntary guidelines governing the disposal of water from sinks, showers and laundry.

The Vancouver Sun reported in September that a Celebrity Cruises ship fined $100,000 by Washington state could have avoided the fine in Canada because Transport Canada had only unenforceable guidelines at the time and did not have a system of fines or penalties in place.

Jennifer Lash of the Living Oceans Society said the new rules, if they’re sufficiently tough, represent good news for the environment.

“In British Columbia, the regulations here are so poor that the cruise ships will dump waste in Canada because they can’t do it in the United States. It’s really quite horrific,” she said. “If they’re taking some good strides to try and improve the regulations and make them quite strict to ensure the ocean is being protected from these cruise ships, then I think it’s a really positive step.”

Dayna Miller of Tourism Vancouver said she was not sure what implications the new regulations would have, but noted that cruise lines have been working to make their ships more environmentally safe.

“I think environmental issues are of utmost importance in terms of sustainable tourism. I think it bodes well in terms of sending the right message to the consumer that the environment’s important,” Miller said. “People care about the environment, and they’re seeking destinations that are looking for ways of sustaining tourism products and experiences.”

~ by fredfelleman on April 27, 2007.

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