Cruise line, Coast Guard differ on waste disposal

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Celebrity Cruises vessel has been discharging treated wastewater in port without the Coast Guard's permission. A cruise ship official said the company believed it had that agency's approval.

The Mercury has been continuously discharging its wastewater this season on cruises in Alaska, said Nancy Wheatley, senior vice president of safety and environment for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which operates Celebrity.

Wheatley said new waste treatment systems clean the water to near the standand for drinking water and exceed new federal requirements for discharging in port.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl said the vessel is not allowed to dispose of treated wastewater in port.

A federal law approved late last year requires ships' wastewater to meet a high standard, including a requirement that waste contain no more than 20 colonies of fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters, before waste can be released in port. Fecal coliform is a bacteria found in human waste.

In reviewing information the Mercury submitted, including laboratory results, the Coast Guard found not all the required information had been submitted, Paitl said.

''The effluent may meet the requirement,'' Paitl said. ''But they have to prove that to us to discharge within one mile'' of shore.

Paitl said he did not know yet if the ship had violated the law. He said the Coast Guard was continuing to look into the issue.

Wheatley said she believed the ship's port discharges were approved. In April, the company sent the Coast Guard test results from the Galaxy, a ship using the same system as the Mercury, and received an e-mail saying the operation was fine, she said. The company followed that up with results from the Mercury, which Wheatley said were even cleaner.

Recent water samples from the Mercury showed no fecal coliform bacteria, Wheatley said.

''What she's discharging is equivalent to bottled water,'' Wheatley said.

''Obviously, if there's some issue, we'll address it as quickly as we can,'' Wheatley said. ''With new laws, sometimes issues come up and people aren't exactly sure what's going on.''

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