Environmentalists, cruise executives discuss sea pollution

Posted: Thursday, March 08, 2001

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The cruise industry has made progress since the days of dumping untreated waste at sea, but recent tests off Alaska show the industry still has a long way to go, a U.S. regulator said Thursday.

The latest tests documented high contamination levels in water samples from cruise ships in Alaskan waters, Craig Vogt, deputy director of oceans and coastal protection for the Environmental Protection Agency, told industry executives.

In Alaska, Gov. Tony Knowles will introduce legislation Friday that aims to strengthen the state's monitoring and enforcement of cruise ship air and water pollution standards.

Vogt challenged the assertions of some cruise executives that meeting local and federal standards would be smooth sailing.

''I don't think it's going to be that easy,'' he said. ''Getting over past sins is difficult.''

In a panel discussion at the annual Seatrade cruise industry convention, company officials said the industry has made significant progress in recent years despite many challenges.

Twenty-two cruise ships and nine lines currently operate in Alaska. The short cruise season from May to mid-September leads to congested ports and waterways, said John Hansen, president of the NorthWest CruiseShip Association.

The EPA estimates each passenger generates about 100 gallons of wastewater per day, including 10 gallons of sewage.

In March 2000, the EPA cited six cruise operators for ''significantly exceeding'' state and federal air pollution limits in Alaska. Those cited were: Miami-based Carnival, Carnival subsidiary Holland America, Miami-based Celebrity, Los Angeles-based Princess, Miami-based Norwegian, and San Francisco-based World Explorer.

''Even though this has not been an easy time in the last year, I'm really pleased with the progress we've made so far,'' Hansen said.

Cruise companies have undertaken voluntary measures to protect Alaska's coasts and seas, he said. Operators have invested $1.4 million in oil spill response programs and agreed not to discharge wastewater while in port. Ships can legally dump wastewater while sailing in Alaska's Inside Passage.

But Richard Wade, president of Risk Management Sciences, said the goodwill of top executives is not enough to ensure that the environment is protected. He compared crew members to teen-agers who need to be taught values and be checked up on occasionally.

''You need external audits to see that the teen-age ship out there is doing what it's supposed to do,'' Wade said. He believes crew members need better training.

Richard Softye, vice president of compliance with Holland America, said cruise operators have a responsibility to keep their crew members on top of the latest technology but do not need new regulations.

''We need enforcement of the current rules,'' he said.

Vogt said he did not know whether the Bush administration would impose new regulations but added Republicans officials ''do not want to be viewed as non-green.''

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