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Federal prosecutors are looking into an allegation that a Celebrity Cruises ship that frequents Juneau dumped toxic chemicals into San Francisco Bay, according to sources familiar with the case.
The owners of the cruise line think prosecutors will discover that rather than toxics, it was soapy water that was coming off the ship.
The dumping allegations were initially made in June by the Bluewater Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group. Kira Schmidt, cruise ship campaign director for Bluewater, said the group's threatened civil lawsuit over the dumping allegations has been put on hold pending possible criminal proceedings.
``I guess we're going to wait and see what happens with the criminal suit,'' Schmidt said. ``They contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked me what I had. They told me, in fact, that they had already opened a case.''
Schmidt said Bluewater's evidence comes in the form of photos and sworn statements from two passengers who took an 11-day Alaska trip on the cruise ship Mercury. The passengers said that in September they saw a white, foulsmelling liquid being pumped into San Francisco Bay while they waited to leave the ship at the end of their cruise.
They said the liquid smelled of dry-cleaning chemicals and produced an oily sheen.
Celebrity Cruises is owned by Royal Caribbean International, which owns also Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The Mercury can carry up to 1,870 passengers, and is scheduled to make 18 stops in Juneau this season.
Lynn Martenstein, vice president of corporate communications for Royal Caribbean International, said they looked at a photo posted on the Internet by Bluewater and figured out where the passengers' cabin was.
She said the company had to ``piecemeal'' together an investigation.
After reviewing records, they found that the dry-cleaning chemical, known as perc, had been offloaded properly both before and after the time the passengers allege it was dumped illegally.
``It is not perc,'' Martenstein said. ``It's categorically not perc.
``We believe, from looking at the picture, that it's rinse water from cleaning the deck. The soap we use is biodegradable.''
A pipe that carried soapy water used to clean the ship's deck, she said, ends pretty much where the photo shows a soapy water.
``We have called Bluewater and asked for a meeting,'' Martenstein said. ``They have not responded yet. It is very common, and I think desirable, for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to look into allegations like this.''
Herb Johnson, a special assistant U.S. attorney general with the Northern California District, said, ``We will neither confirm or deny whether an investigation is open on this.''
However, Schmidt said an investigation was in progress, as did a federal official familiar with the case. That official wanted to remain anonymous.
Royal Caribbean admitted, as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, to dumping drycleaning and photo-processing chemicals into Gastineau Channel and oily bilge water into Lynn Canal in the mid-1990s. The company admitted to 21 felony environmental violations in various U.S. ports and paid $18 million in fines.
The company also came to an agreement with state prosecutors over those violations.