Cruise ship lines agree to ban discharges in sanctuary

By Brian Gawley
Peninsula Daily News

A voluntary agreement to ban all cruise ship waste water discharges within the 3,310-square-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was signed Tuesday in Seattle.
The agreement between the Northwest Cruise Ship Association, the Port of Seattle and the state Department of Ecology extends a previous ban on cruise ship discharges that applied only 12 miles offshore.
It also establishes a program that allows Ecology inspectors to board ships, look at log books and examine waste water treatment equipment.
“Our goal is to protect the water quality of the sanctuary,” said Carol Bernthal, superintendent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
“It’s an important way that cruise ships are adequately protecting the resources that their tourism depends upon,” she said.
The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 3,310 square miles off the state’s northwest coast, extending 135 miles from about Cape Flattery to the mouth of the Copalis River north of Ocean Shores.
Negotiations for the agreement began in 2004 but dealt only with cruise ship practices in state waters, Bernthal said.
Sanctuary officials asked late in the negotiations to extend the agreement beyond state waters, she said.
The sanctuary does have an existing ordinance that says waste water discharges are allowed with an advanced onboard treatment system, Bernthal said.
But that is directed at small boats and not cruise ships, which can be floating cities, she said.
Advanced treatment systems treat waste water to standards equal to or greater than shore-based municipal treatment plants that discharge in state waters.
Fred Felleman from the environmental advocacy group Ocean Advocates said his group was pleased with news of the agreement.
“This sanctuary is not anyplace USA,” Felleman said.
“It’s one of the top marine areas left in the country and we should be treating it this way.
“It’s not an onerous request since the ships are only transiting through the sanctuary briefly,” he said.
California’s marine sanctuaries already are including regulatory changes in their management plans to prohibit these discharges, Felleman said.
Ocean Advocates asked Port of Seattle commissioners to make this agreement part of their strategy for creating a permanent cruise ship terminal in Elliott Bay, he said.
“Since the cruise ships are using the port’s docks, the port can ask them to do certain things,” Felleman said.
“It’s a voluntary agreement, so it’s not legally binding but they have agreed to do it.”
The sanctuary’s northern border extends to the Canadian border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Felleman said.
Increasing numbers of cruise ships are using the Outside Passage to the west of Vancouver Island on their way to Alaska instead of the Inside Passage to the east, he said.
But those Alaska-bound cruise ships must stop in Victoria to satisfy the Jones Act, Felleman said.
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires foreign-flagged ships traveling between two U.S. ports to stop at a foreign port in between.
That part of the sanctuary is the last stretch of open ocean before ships returning from Alaska reach port, making it a tempting place to discharge wastewater, he said.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or

~ by fredfelleman on May 19, 2007.

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