The cruise industry's No. 1 trade association has a new environmental message for its members: Toe the line or sail the seas alone.
Beginning July 1, ships run by 16 major cruise lines, including eight that sail to Juneau, must meet or exceed recycling and waste-discharge guidelines set by the International Council of Cruise Lines. If they fail to comply, the companies face losing membership in the ICCL, a powerful industry lobby.
ICCL member lines sending ships to Juneau include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Radisson and Royal Caribbean. Other member lines are Costa Cruises, Cunard, Disney, Orient, Regal, Royal Olympic, Seabourn and Windstar.
On Saturday, Alaska lawmakers passed a bill that sets a cleanup standard for the wastewater from sinks and showers and requires the ships to provide information on their solid and hazardous waste-handling practices. The bill also gives the state access to water testing and discharge records and authority to board ships to do its own tests.
ICCL President Michael Crye told The Associated Press his group's members unanimously approved the environmental standards independent of events in Alaska.
"I hope that these efforts on the part of the cruise industry do not go unappreciated," Crye said. "Regrettably, there have been violations of environmental laws involving cruise lines in the past few years. These incidents have served as a wake-up call."
Alaska officials began testing water discharges a year ago and found only one of 80 water samples taken from ship storage tanks met federal standards for suspended solids and fecal coliform, a bacteria found in human or animal feces.
The findings touched off a backlash against an industry that brings about a million passengers and crew members to Alaska each summer.
The new ICCL standards govern the disposal of silver associated with photo processing aboard ships, chemicals used in dry cleaning and printing, bilge and oily water residues and recyclables such as glass and cardboard. And perhaps most importantly, the standards control the discharge of treated sewage, known as blackwater, and wastewater from showers, sinks and kitchen galleys, called graywater.
ICCL standards call for ships to be at least four miles from port before discharging such water, unless authorities allow otherwise, or a ship is limited by geography.
Until recently, the water from galleys, sinks and showers could be discharged almost anywhere. Since a federal law backed by Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski was passed, no such discharge is allowed within a mile of Alaska ports. The ICCL standards, however, will apply worldwide.
Kira Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the environmental lobbying group Bluewater Network, called the ICCL standards a step in the right direction, but said they were no substitute for government regulation of the industry.
Although cruise ships account for just a tiny fraction of the 194,075 marine pollution cases recorded by the Coast Guard since 1991, the ships produce a large amount of waste, motivating cruise companies to look for new ways to lessen their impact.
Shipboard employees of Princess Cruises, for example, sometimes sort garbage by hand, picking out empty liquor bottles and stray soda cans passengers wrongly toss into regular garbage.
Glass and aluminum crushers and incinerators labor below deck to turn garbage into recycling or ash that can be brought to landfills on shore.
Princess, Royal Caribbean and other companies have also installed wastewater holding tanks to keep from having to discharge in port.
"We're highly visible and we're highly motivated to avoid adverse publicity," said Tom Dow, vice president of public affairs for Princess.
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