July 30: Juneau Empire on cruise ship dumping legislation:

Posted: Monday, July 31, 2000

A bill now before the U.S. House would prohibit dumping of untreated sewage in the Inside Passage. The measure, first introduced last month by Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, passed the Senate last week.

In a nutshell, the bill will close a loophole in current law that allows vessels to release untreated sewage outside a three-mile limit, which includes some areas of the Inside Passage. Another section requires ships to be underway and exceeding 4 knots before they can release treated gray water from sinks, showers and basins.

Original language, which was weakened, would have required a 10-mile limit.

We support this bill. Cruise lines and their passengers are our guests to our beautiful area. And guests should act like guests and not leave a mess.

To its credit, the cruise industry already is meeting the standards set forth under the bill through voluntary actions. Those voluntary steps, however, weren't initiated until recently, and in light of several charges of illegal dumping.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, for instance, was fined millions of dollars after admitting it discharged oily bilge water into Lynn Canal and toxic chemicals into Gastineau Channel in the mid-1990s.

So while the cruise ships have now taken steps to stop dumping, this bill puts some teeth into those voluntary steps, according to Murowski. Civil penalties are set at up to $25,000 per violation and up to 50 percent of the penalty could be awarded to whistleblowers as a reward.

We appreciate the cruise industry's actions to stop dumping. But we also support this bill as it will help ensure -- or at least penalize -- hose companies who don't abide by their own rules and hopefully, if this bill passes, the law.

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