Smoke spewing from the stacks of four cruise ships in Juneau earlier this month appeared to be in violation of federal and state air pollution limits, according to a federal regulator who conducted the surprise inspections.
Results from June 10-12 inspections will be reviewed by the agency's Seattle regional office, which will decide whether to issue citations.
John Pavitt, Alaska air quality coordinator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, would not name the cruise ships involved in this month's incidents, because the data is still being reviewed. But he did say that all four of the ships were owned by companies that were cited by the EPA last February for air quality violations during the summer of 1999.
Only four companies that had ships in port during the June 10-12 inspection period also were cited in February: Carnival, Princess Cruises, Celebrity and Holland America.
``We're aware that they said one of our ships was in violation,'' said Denise Seomin, spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises.
``We were one,'' said Jim Walsh, vice president of environmental health and safety for Carnival.
But Carnival was doing its own opacity readings when its ship, the Jubilee, was being monitored by the EPA, and company personnel didn't see any violation of standards, Walsh said from Miami today. ``The discrepancy between the two is incredible.''
John Hansen, president of the Vancouver-based North West CruiseShip Association, a trade organization representing the major lines, said it was unwise to comment on the inspection results until the EPA determines whether violations occurred.
``We do take air quality emissions very seriously,'' Hansen said in a telephone interview. All of the companies are taking steps to improve air quality performance, he added.
Citations previously were issued for 13 ships owned by six companies: Holland America Line-Westours Inc., Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and World Explorer.
Five of the six companies have challenged the EPA's findings, Pavitt said. EPA is ``really close'' to a decision about whether to issue citations for those alleged violations, he said.
Cruise company representatives are involved with state and federal regulators and citizen activists in a group called the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, which is working on joint monitoring efforts, voluntary compliance with environmental regulations and discussions about ways the industry can regain credibility with the public.
But Pavitt, who conducted the inspections that led to the February citations, said the amount of smoke observed coming from the ships in the recent checks was ``very similar'' to the levels from 1999 that were determined to be violations.
He is one of the agency's specially trained ``smoke readers,'' who are trained to judge the opacity of air pollution from the ships. The federal and state limit for opacity is 20 percent -- that is, the background that can be seen through a ship's smoke plume must be no more than 20 percent obstructed.
``I was reading values well above 20 percent -- 30, 40 percent; 50 percent,'' Pavitt said.
The EPA's Seattle office is verifying that he followed prescribed methodology. He must pass a test every six months in which his visual readings are checked against an electronic monitor.
However, Walsh said that the personnel doing the readings for Carnival have the same training and certification.
During the same three days of the June inspection, the EPA received complaints from the public saying the ships at the docks in Juneau were creating a lot of smoke, Pavitt said.
The Carnival ship Jubilee was cited for violating federal air-quality standards last year and was the focus of a public complaint this spring.
It arrived in the Juneau port May 12 ``belching huge black smoke the whole way,'' Susan Schrader of the Alaska Conservation Alliance said during the May 17 public meeting in Juneau conducted by the Cruise Ship Initiative.
Carnival Cruise Lines spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said the next day that the ship's readings indicated it was not in violation.
Walsh said today that the Jubilee, which has an older diesel technology than most of the cruise line's vessels, will not be deployed in Alaska after this season. ``If she can't meet the standard, we're not going to run her up there.''
The Cruise Ship Initiative is planning on doing some ambient air monitoring in downtown Juneau, as well as conducting an ``environmental awareness'' program July 12-14, including public tours of waste-handling facilities of ships then in port.
Mike Conway of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is coordinating the initiative for the state. He says that public confidence in the cooperative approach with cruise lines shouldn't be diminished by the report of new air quality violations.
``We indicated all along that violations were not going to be ignored,'' Conway said today. ``There's no `enforcement shield.'''
The ambient air monitoring, which hasn't yet begun, will determine whether there is an overall air quality problem in downtown Juneau, Conway said. Even then, though, it won't sort out where all of the problematic emissions are coming from, as tour buses, fishing boats and other vehicles could be contributing.