Group says ship dumped chemicals

Activists plan to file civil suit against Celebrity Cruises

Posted: Wednesday, July 05, 2000

The Bluewater Network is after Celebrity Cruises.

The California-based environmental organization plans to file a civil suit against the cruise line for an alleged dumping incident by the cruise ship Mercury into San Francisco Bay, according to Kira Schmidt, executive director of Bluewater.

The Mercury can carry 1,870 passengers, and is slated to make 18 stops in Juneau this season. It was in port Tuesday.

Schmidt said witnesses saw foul-smelling water, allegedly including dry-cleaning chemicals and oil, being pumped off the ship last Sept. 21.

``We have at least two, possibly four, eyewitnesses,'' said Schmidt today. Also, she said, the group has ``other hard evidence,'' but a lawyer has suggested the organization keep that to itself at this time.

No allegations were made about dumping in Alaska waters.

Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean International, said the San Francisco allegation is bunk. In a statement from the company, the line ``flatly denies all allegations by the Bluewater Network that its ship ... discharged illegally and/or polluted San Francisco's harbor in any way on'' the day in question.

Along with company policy against such discharges and a subsequent external audit of environmental logs, the company's statement said piping on the Mercury would have to be significantly altered for dry-cleaning chemicals to be pumped into the water.

Celebrity also wondered why it hadn't heard about Bluewater's plans to sue until the Empire called.

U.S. Coast Guard officials responsible for the waters of San Francisco Bay said they hadn't heard of the allegations by today. Schmidt said a letter will be sent to the Coast Guard this week regarding the allegations.

According to a sworn statement supplied by Bluewater, Alan Silver, a Las Vegas, Nev., resident, watched a white-colored fluid being pumped out of the Mercury upon the vessel's return from an 11-day Alaska cruise. He said the fluid produced an oily sheen and smelled of dry-cleaning chemicals. Efforts to report the alleged dumping, he said, were blocked by red tape.

Schmidt said Bluewater is pursuing a civil case so it, rather than federal regulators, will be running the legal action. She said additional evidence will back the allegations made public so far, and will be a part of the suit Bluewater warned Celebrity about in a letter sent last week.

``We wouldn't have sent the letter if we didn't think we had a case,'' she said.

Royal Caribbean pleaded guilty to charges its ships had dumped oily bilge water into Lynn Canal and toxins, including dry-cleaning chemicals, into Gastineau Channel five years ago. That admission came with a settlement with federal prosecutors, in which Royal Caribbean admitted to 21 felony environmental violations in six different U.S. jurisdictions and agreed to pay $18 million in fines last year. The company has since apologized and pledged to revamp its policies on when, where and what it discharges into the water.

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