Floating Cities, But Without a Sewer System


Am Johal

VANCOUVER, Canada, Mar 25 (IPS) – Cruise ships are dumping sewage in the waters off Canada’s coast, but the federal government seems content with voluntary compliance standards and loose regulations, according to civil society critics.

An average cruise ship discharges 1.3 million litres of waste water per day, according to the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group. Many cruise ships also burn fuel that has a 90-percent higher sulphur content than fuel used by cars.

Ross Klein, a professor at the school of social work at Memorial University of Newfoundland — and a former cruise enthusiast — told IPS, “Canada initially looked at regulating the cruise industry through voluntary guidelines in 2001 and 2002. We knew that they didn’t work. In 2004, regulations were passed under Transport Canada. [But the] regulations were somehow less stringent than the voluntary guidelines.”

“While the government says there are fines, there really isn’t an enforcement mechanism which actually works. They are less stringent in Canada than in American states like Washington or Alaska. Most of the cruise ship industry pay no taxes and are often in international waters. They shouldn’t be treated any differently in Vancouver than in Alaska or Washington. There’s no reason why British Columbia shouldn’t have equivalent regulations, particularly in protected areas,” he said.

Large multinational companies fly so-called flags of convenience to pay little or no taxes and do not have to meet basic labour or safety standards. Countries such as Panama, Burma, Cambodia, Lebanon, the Bahamas and Liberia allow such safe havens for the cruise industry.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) declined to answer specific questions, referring IPS to a brochure on the company’s environmental policies. It says that “All of NCL’s ships are equipped with state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment systems that treat black water and gray water to near drinking water standards.”

The brochure says that all NCL crew receive training on environmental procedures, and that each NCL ship has a designated environmental officer on board at all times to oversee environmental training and compliance.

Holland America could not be reached for comment.

The U.S.-based Blue Water Network, associated with Friends of the Earth, has estimated that 77 percent of ship waste comes from cruise ships. Two billion pounds is dumped into the oceans each year.

An Alaska-bound cruise ship along the west coast of North America generates about 28,000 gallons of sewage sludge. Approximately 150 cruises go to Alaska from Seattle, often stopping along the Canadian west coast. Environmental advocates have argued for a sludge intake pipe so sewage could be later used for fertiliser and other uses.

According to Kahea, the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, “Each cruise ship carries an average of 3,000 people and produces as much sewage and waste as a mid-sized city. Tonnes of raw sewage, garbage and even hazardous waste are produced and disposed of each day by a single ship. This constant discharge of waste into our oceans is multiplied by dozens of ships operating every day in our precious oceans.”

Cruise ships do not have to comply with environmental and water quality protection laws that are required for municipalities, although some say they do so voluntarily.

The Clean Air Cruise Ship Act proposed by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Congressman Sam Farr of California would allow no dumping of sewage, graywater or oily bilge within 12 miles of any shore.

It would also empower the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine standards for sewage and graywater discharged beyond the 12 mile-point and charges the Coast Guard and EPA with enforcing the standards.

The bill would allow cruise ships to have their pollution control equipment inspected, protect cruise ship employees who report polluting activities onboard vessels, and allow citizens to launch civil actions against any vessel or carrier in violation of the act.

Howard Breen, formerly the marine campaign director with the non-profit Canadian organisation Travel Just, “The long and the short of it is that the industry is full of platitudes. Shipping as a whole has a past that is secretive and not very transparent. The shipping magnates do their business far from the prying eyes of the public.”

“In the last decade, the industry has ballooned to such a magnitude, their emissions tend to be massive, and the track record of the cruise ship industry has had fines of 90 million dollars levied — predominantly American,” he said. “In Canada, they’ve actually set back regulations from voluntary standards. These ships, despite their size, don’t have adequately sized holding tanks — unlike railways, airplanes or buses. This is clearly unsustainable with respect to waste disposal.”

Breen added that the discharging “can lead to the suffocation of the water columns, big lethal algae blooms that create larger dead zones in the ocean. This is not a benign substance being dumped into Canadian waters. Our ocean becomes an invisible landfill and a toilet for foreign guests.”

“This is greenwashing with terrible consequences,” said Breen. “You see the hospitality side of the industry and not the operational side.”

Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth USA, said, “The cruise ships in Seattle go to Alaska through Canadian waters. Ships, being mobile dischargers, want low, uniform standards. There wouldn’t need to be port specific situations if they didn’t skirt around EPA regulations.”

“You would be hard-pressed to consider a vacation with sanitation facilities as something incidental and discharge permits for everything other than sewage. The U.S. regulatory regime is woefully inadequate. They are flagrant polluters. Alaska has had a much longer historic concern around this and has special authority to regulate cruise ships in a much more rigorous manner. The filters are pulling out the sludge with filters but then dump up it out offshore.”

***** + ENVIRONMENT: Household Chemicals Wreaking Havoc in Fish (http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41364) + ENVIRONMENT: First Map of Human Impacts on Oceans Released (http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41220) + ENVIRONMENT: Planetary Check-Up Starts With the Oceans (http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40236)



~ by fredfelleman on April 5, 2008.

One Response to “Floating Cities, But Without a Sewer System”

  1. Hey! Check out this video about privatization of water and the Victoria sewage treatment plant…

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