Cruise ship companies operating in Southeast Alaska have paid $540,000 for air pollution violations since 2000, but the number of infractions has rapidly declined over the last four years, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The majority of the violations for dirty smoke emanating from the stacks of the big ships occurred in 2000. That year the state received a $3.5 million settlement from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines for illegally dumping oily bilge water in Lynn Canal and water laced with toxic waste in Gastineau Channel. A quarter of a million dollars of the settlement was used for a five-year smokestack emissions monitoring program for cruise ships and state ferries. That program ended last year.
In 2000, seven cruise companies paid $347,500 for 12 air violations in Juneau and were charged $120,000 in suspended violations. Ten violations were reported in 2001, with cruise companies paying $82,500 for three violations in Juneau and charged $247,500 for seven suspended violations.
Violations dropped to fewer than one or two a year for the 2002 through 2004 cruise seasons.
"The numbers have really gone down," said Gretchen Keiser, wastewater discharge program manager in the Alaska Division of Water.
Don Habeger, director of industry relations for Royal Caribbean, said jet engine turbine systems that reduce emissions have been installed in four of the company's six ships.
"I believe the incidences have gone down over the years, so the industry has responded ... quite well," Habeger said.
Keiser said the five-year program requiring cruise companies to pay for air quality monitoring ended last year and now the state will assume the responsibility. A $175,000 contract covering air pollution monitoring over the next three years and part of 2008 is currently up for bid, she said.
The monitoring program requires the contractor to perform at least 250 air emission tests annually in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Whittier and Seward. No more than 200 of the hour-long tests can be conducted at the same port.
The monitoring system uses an EPA-approved method of recording the opacity of the smoke, said Jeanette Brena, air permits enforcement officer for the state's conservation department.
"Visual emissions may not reduce visibility by more than 20 percent," Brena said. Exceptions to that rule include when vessels are approaching or leaving the dock.
Smokestack pollution fines run $27,500 each but may be suspended if the company is actively working to reduce its air pollution, Brena said. Cruise lines switching from bunker fuel to diesel fuel may have their fines suspended and ultimately eliminated if they are successful in cutting emissions.
"Diesel fuel has less sulfur and less particulates coming out of the stack," Brena said.