JUNEAU (AP) -- A loophole that allows ships to dump untreated sewage within the Inside Passage would be closed under legislation proposed Thursday by Sen. Frank Murkowski.
Current law allows such dumping more than 3 miles from shore. Some of the more open parts of the Inside Passage are more than 3 miles from any land.
Cruise ships have been accused of dumping sewage and ground-up food waste into these areas, known as doughnut holes.
''While we Alaskans always have welcomed the cruise industry and recognize its great important to the local economy, there have been certain events in the recent past that have been less welcome,'' Murkowski said. ''The cruise ships now commonly plying the waters of Alaska are the size of small cities, some carrying more than $2,000 passengers. This makes them larger than some of the Alaskan communities they represent.''
Cruise line officials have both denied that doughnut-hole dumping takes place and promised not to use such practices in the future.
Murkowski's amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2000 would also tighten the rules for discharging treated sewage and untreated wastewater from sinks and showers, known as gray water. Such waste can now be dumped anywhere, although ships typically discharge it while moving from port to port.
Murkowski's amendment would allow discharges only while a ship was moving and more than 10 miles from port.
The measure also would require the Coast Guard to toughen its scrutiny of cruise ships by using regular and surprise inspections to examine environmental compliance records and equipment.
The cruise ship industry has been working with the Coast Guard and state and federal environmental regulators on a voluntary program to monitor sewage and gray water discharges, but an agreement has not been finalized.
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