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Ship spills dirty water into channel

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

For the second time in nine days, a cruise ship has discharged wastewater illegally.

The 1,494-passenger Westerdam discharged an undetermined amount of graywater while tied up at the Juneau dock at 6:25 p.m. Saturday.

The graywater apparently escaped because of a stuck valve, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which boarded the ship and investigated later Saturday. The Coast Guard had been notified by "a concerned citizen who noticed some discolored water near the ship," according to the agency's news release.

The ship's owner, Holland America Line, estimated that between 35 and 100 gallons of graywater, which consists of water from sinks, showers and laundries, escaped as it was being pumped into a holding tank.

"To put this quantity in perspective, a typical four-person household produces about the same amount of graywater in a day," said Stein Kruse, senior vice president of fleet operations, in a news release. "Holland America is sorry this accidental discharge occurred."

Holland America will block off all overboard valves to prevent a repeat of the incident, Kruse said. The company has a zero discharge policy and is developing new treatment technology, he noted.

Michele Brown, state commissioner of environmental conservation, said the Westerdam's graywater discharge and an illegal discharge of treated toilet waste by the Norwegian Sky on May 3 show the need for state oversight, such as in a bill pending before the Legislature.

"You need to have that independent oversight role by a government agency, like any other industry has," she said.

The Coast Guard is taking enforcement action on both discharges, with potential penalties of up to $25,000 a day. The penalties are included in a federal law passed in December, which sets discharge standards for toilet waste and prohibits the discharge of any wastewater within a mile of shore or at speed of under 6 knots, without prior testing and approval.

The Westerdam crew was "extremely easy to work with, very cooperative," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl of the Coast Guard. Although a citizen reported the incident, and federal law requires cruise ships to report illegal discharges, Paitl said, "We don't have any reason to believe they would not have reported."

After the May 3 Norwegian Sky incident, U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who got the new federal standards through Congress, said the citation proves the federal bill is working.

"The Coast Guard should be praised for gearing up and enforcing the bill from the arrival of the first cruise ship of the season," Murkowski said. "And the company should be praised for voluntarily reporting the violation. It shows the company is keeping to its commitment to protect the waters of Southeast Alaska."

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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