More ships may have polluted

New owners look into cruise line's past

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2000

Another cruise line that brings tourists to Juneau may have violated federal environmental laws.

The new owners of Norwegian Cruise Lines have said the company is cooperating with law enforcement officials about discovered violations of environmental law at the company before it was sold.

According to new management, when Star Cruises bought Norwegian Cruise Line earlier this year, it discovered things weren't right.

That news, on top of continuing reports of environmental violations by cruise ships, has led to frustration within the cruise ship industry, which is trying to expand its customer base to include younger, more environmentally concerned people, said Michael Driscoll, editor of a cruise industry trade publication called Cruise Week.

A news release from Norwegian said the cruise line had ``voluntarily self-reported to U.S. law enforcement authorities a pattern of violations of environmental law on several of its ships. These violations were identified by a detailed internal review initiated by new management installed by the new Board of Directors resulting from the recent change of control. ... It appears from this review that this pattern commenced well before the change of control.''

A spokeswoman at the company said the statement is all the company has to say about the matter for now, so there's no way to know if any of the undisclosed violations occurred in Alaska.

Norwegian operates two cruise ships that are visiting Juneau this year -- the Norwegian Sky and the Norwegian Wind.

Greg Linsin, assistant chief of the environmental crimes section at the Washington, D.C., offices of the U.S. Department of Justice, said he couldn't talk about any investigation. He couldn't confirm or deny whether or not federal authorities are looking into the problems at Norwegian.

Norwegian's statement, made in May, wasn't widely circulated then because cruise lines are becoming weary of the publicity from a string of environmental violations, said Driscoll of Cruise Week.

``They say: `We are now model corporate citizens and everything was done in the past,''' Driscoll said. ``But stuff keeps happening. They can't shake this stigma in the tourism market.''

Nancy Wheatly, senior vice president for safety and the environment at Royal Caribbean International, said progress is being made and cruise companies are thinking greener.

Companies are working against a long history in the maritime industry of thinking dumping a little trash in a vast expanse of water will do no harm, she said.

```It's a big ocean,''' said Wheatly. ``That really was the attitude.''

She emphasized the ``was,'' and said industry leaders are keen to protect the environments that bring customers on their boats. Smaller companies are beginning to follow that lead, she said. Also, she said, not all the violations reported recently are a matter of an obsolete attitude. Some, such as the reports of engineers deliberately altering pipes to bypass environmental controls, have been deliberate.

But that's changing too, she said.

``The values have really changed,'' she said. ``The leaders of the industry really believe that the environment is our future.''

Publicity over illegal dumping of toxins and other pollutants has dogged the cruise industry for a couple of years now. It was brought to a head last year when Royal Caribbean admitted to 22 felony violations of federal environmental law and paid $18 million as a condition of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Those violations included the late-night dumping of oily bilge water in Lynn Canal and of toxic chemicals into Gastineau Channel. Those violations occurred in 1994 and 1995.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its intent to fine two cruise lines -- Princess Cruises and Norwegian -- for violating air pollution laws in Alaska.

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