Ship pumps laundry water into city harbor

Cruise ship crew reported accidental spill of 200 gallons

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

The Rhapsody of the Seas illegally discharged graywater into Juneau's harbor Monday while federal inspectors were on board the ship, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard was checking the vessel for safety and environmental compliance when the ship's master told inspectors the crew accidentally pumped about 200 gallons of wastewater from the ship's laundry overboard. Ships are not allowed to discharge graywater within a mile of shore or at speed of under 6 knots, without prior testing and approval. Graywater comes from sinks, galleys, showers and laundries.

The incident happened when the crew was transferring wastewater to a holding tank, said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Joe Paitl.

"The holding tank exceeded its capacity and it was discharged through an overboard discharge valve," Paitl said.

An official with the cruise line said crews routinely move graywater around to maintain stability of the ships. Monday's overflow happened because the crew used three pumps instead of one while transferring the water to the tank, said Nancy Wheatley, senior vice president for Royal Caribbean, which owns the ship.

"They were using too many pumps, pumping it too fast, and they didn't shut the pumps off quite fast enough," Wheatley said. "They got essentially a splash of gray water out the air vent ... It should not have happened, and we're sorry it did."

The tanks are configured with alarms that sound when the water level nears the top or reaches 91.5 percent capacity, Wheatley said. In response to the incident Monday, the cruise line has modified the alarms to sound when the tanks reach 85 percent capacity, she said.

Paitl said the investigation is ongoing and the Coast Guard will pursue civil penalties against Royal Caribbean. The maximum civil penalty is $25,000 per day of the violation.

The Coast Guard also is pressing civil penalties against two other cruise lines for illegal discharges earlier this year. On May 12, the Westerdam released an undetermined amount of graywater while tied up at the Juneau dock. The ship's owner, Holland America Line, estimated that between 35 to 100 gallons of graywater escaped as it was being pumped into a holding tank.

On May 3, the Norwegian Sky released treated blackwater, or toilet waste, that exceeded federal environmental standards while traveling southbound between Juneau and Ketchikan. Norwegian Cruise Line reported the discharge to the Coast Guard and described the incident as accidental.

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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