Cruise line bills target pollution

Legislation would regulate paint, spill control emissions

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

Cruise ships would need to file reports, put together spill response plans and slap on a fresh coat of paint to cruise the Inside Passage under new bills before the state Legislature.

The governor's office, Sen. Loren Leman and Rep. Beth Kerttula all put proposals on the table late last week that would have an impact on the cruise ship industry, and all of them are tied to the environment.

Haines' Gershon Cohen, who's working on cruise ship issues for the national organization Blue Water Network, said Leman's bill would eliminate an exemption to a 1987 Alaska ban on the use of a highly toxic bottom paint containing Tributylin. The paint is designed to kill barnacles and other organisms, by sluffing off into the water and creating a ``dead zone'' next to a ship's hull, Cohen said.

``As the ships are cruising along, the paint is coming off,'' he said. ``Once it goes into the water, it stays toxic.''

The tin-based toxin, he said, doesn't go away, but accumulates in small organisms and can work its way up the food chain. Nobody has studied Southeast waters to determine what impact the use of the paint is having here, Cohen said.

International rules have been proposed to ban applying the paint to all ships by 2003, Cohen said. Leman's bill would go into effect a year before then. The Anchorage Republican wasn't available for comment this morning.

John Hansen, president of the Vancouver-based North West CruiseShip Association, said there have been problems getting permits to strip the bottom paint off and brush on alternative paints. Given the proposal to ban the paints internationally, he said, the industry will live with it.

Hansen said he hasn't had time to look over a bill Gov. Tony Knowles proposed late Friday. It would require cruise ships, cargo vessels, larger fishing boats and the Alaska Railroad to have a plan to respond to any oil spill within two days, and be able to clean up 15 percent of the worse spill that could occur.

``It's a big hole in our safety net,'' said Michele Brown, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. ``We're the only West Coast state who has not plugged this hole, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise.''

Some ships, including the biggest cruise ships, can carry up to 1.5 million gallons of fuel, Brown said.

Brown said the measure would allow for negotiated agreements between the state and companies to deal with potential fuel spills, she said. As it is, only ships carrying oil as cargo fall under spill-response legislation.

Knowles' new measure applies to vessels carrying 6,000 or more gallons of fuel or oil that are over 300 gross tons. The legislation would also apply to the Alaska Railroad, which would have to be ready to deal with a spill of oil or fuel cargo from its largest tank cars, Brown said.

Companies would need to show they could put at least $1 million into an effort to clean up a spill by one of their ships.

The measure would also mandate that businesses show they have the money to deal with a spill. Those rules, if worked out, would go into effect in mid 2001.

Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, said her measure would require cruise ships to file reports to the state indicating what they dump into the water or emit into the air.

The measure would help gather basic information and give the state a way to monitor what cruise ships do with their waste water, chemicals and exhaust, Kerttula said.

``We don't get this information right now,'' she said. ``They'll be responsible to collect the information and make a report. If they don't do it, they can be fined.'' That fine would be up to $50 per day, she said.

Hansen said Kerttula's legislation isn't needed because a process to get at the information she wants is being worked out by industry and the state.

``We're working really hard on that,'' Hansen said.

Unlike Kerttula's bill, the governor's spill response legislation wasn't linked to the illegal pollution admitted to by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines last summer.

That admission lead to a state lawsuit against Royal Caribbean, which was dropped after a $3.5 million settlement was worked out. That settlement has been approved in Juneau Superior Court.

United Southeast Alaska Gillneters had sought to intervene in that lawsuit, but abandoned the effort. Bruce Weyhrauch, an attorney working for the group, said legal costs and a new strategy - to task fish and game officials and form a larger organization to address Southeast pollution issues - were the reasons for the gillnetter's withdrawal.

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