ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska cruise industry has agreed to a voluntary program of testing wastewater discharges by the giant ships carrying passengers through the Inside Passage.
Testing of what the ships dump overboard will be done at night while the vessels are under way, with the results semiconfidential unless a violation of law occurs.
Under the plan, the names of ships being tested would be coded so only the cruise industry, the lab doing the work and the Coast Guard would know the results for specific ships.
The agreement results from months of complex negotiations prompted by reports from marine pilots that some cruise ships were dumping in ''doughnut holes'' -- small areas of international water within the Inside Passage where ships may legally discharge untreated sewage.
The cruise companies say they never dump raw waste and that they've tightened their environmental policies in the wake of two criminal cases of illegal dumping in Alaska by Royal Carribean Cruise Lines Ltd. and Holland America Line.
Environmentalists wanted to see more rigorous testing to find out what the ships are discharging and whether it poses a health risk.
''Do I like (the program)? No. Do I think it's adequate? No. Can I do anything about it? No. They're (industry) paying for it,'' grumbled Amy Crook, with the Juneau nonprofit group Center for Science in Public Participation.
But some in the industry say the testing is overkill but necessary for public relations.
''This is a voluntary program designed to gather credible information, not because the law requires it but because the people want it, and we have to do that to ultimately set people's fears to rest,'' said Nick Schoengerdt, policy director for Holland America Line.
Analysts will test samples from each of the two dozen or so foreign-flagged cruise liners for conventional pollutants such as chlorine, ammonia, fecal coliform and total suspended solids. These tests will be done twice per ship this summer.
If the waste shows elevated levels of pollutants, the industry would be subject to fines or other penalties, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Spencer Wood.
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