Cruise rules 'mesh nicely'

Industry also invests in anti-pollution tools

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Cruise ships, which just a year ago operated under few pollution regulations, now have new federal, state and industry standards to comply with.

The passage of a cruise ship bill by the Alaska Legislature on Saturday has added a new layer of reporting requirements, wastewater testing and sampling schedules, marine discharge limits and fees on top of federal regulation passed by Congress in December.

It also builds upon the work of the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, a voluntary program that brings together federal and state regulators, cruise ship executives and citizen activists, and which included groundbreaking wastewater testing last year.

State rules at a glance

Under the new state law on cruise ships, companies must:

Register with the state, agreeing to comply with the terms and conditions of vessel discharges.

Pay a fee of about $1 per passenger.

Maintain records and discharge logbooks, and share information with the state.

Permit the Department of Environmental Conservation to board ships to do inspections and take wastewater samples, and pay for at least two sampling events each year.

Refrain from discharging untreated sewage.

Limit discharges of treated sewage to 200 fecal coliform colonies per 100 milliliters and suspended solids to 150 milligrams per liter.

Refrain from discharging treated sewage or untreated graywater within a mile of shore or at speeds less than 6 knots.

Apply the discharge limits for sewage to graywater by no later than 2003, with interim protective measures identified immediately.

Provide a plan for the off-loading of solid and hazardous wastes.

And now an industry lobbying group, the International Council of Cruise Lines, has made new environmental performance standards a condition of membership.

Beyond all of that, individual cruise lines have their own policies for limiting smoke emissions and wastewater discharges, and have made separate investments in cutting-edge pollution technology.

"The thing that makes it easier is a lot of these pieces mesh nicely," said John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association, the umbrella group for nine major lines that do business in Alaska. In looking at the federal and state requirements, "I don't see any conflicts," he said.

The bottom line for cruise ships now looks like this:

No raw sewage can be dumped in Alaska waters, under either federal or state law.

Treated sewage and graywater from sinks, showers, laundries and galleys can't be dumped close to shore without advanced treatment techniques that are proven in advance.

Graywater discharges will be held to the current fecal coliform limit for treated sewage no later than 2003, under state law, and possibly even sooner if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decides to act.

Ship logbooks on discharges will be open to federal and state regulators.

Wastewater samples will be taken by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and DEC won't be limited by what federal officials do.

The state will assess a $1 fee per passenger to pay for monitoring, testing and inspection programs, including effluent regulations that will be developed by DEC in negotiations with the industry and other interested parties.

The part of the state law authorizing DEC to write regulations was effective immediately upon passage, and DEC Commissioner Michele Brown is preparing for the process, which is expected to take several months to complete.

The Cruise Ship Initiative has laid the groundwork for the rule-making process, she said. "You've already gotten working relationships established. Except at the end of the day, instead of saying 'pretty please,' you'll have regulations. ... They're not necessarily consensus regulations. It's just that they're developed in a much more collaborative way."

Other aspects of the law are effective July 1. The $1 fee is due thereafter, and is expected to raise about $400,000 this year, Brown said. That will pay for two new positions in DEC and various contracts. Next year's proceeds from the fee are estimated to be more than $700,000.

Cruise companies also must register with the state for the first time, although Brown said she won't penalize anyone this time if they miss the July 1 deadline by a few days. Also technically due then are a list of "interim protective measures" that companies will take regarding the discharge of graywater and their plans for off-loading solid and hazardous wastes.

DEC is authorized to board ships and take water samples. Cruise companies also must report to the state any violations of discharge limits, and must share with the state any reports to federal regulators about wastewater testing.

Industry spokesman Hansen said the companies in his association, which are operating 22 large cruise ships in Alaska, will make at least $40 million in technological adjustments to reduce air and water pollution. While most of that was coming anyway, the new federal and state laws have accelerated the pace, he said.

Bill McAllister can be reached at

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