Haines group prompts inquiry into ship waste

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- The state office of special prosecutions is looking into an alleged cruise ship dumping incident near Haines in May.

Members of a Haines family that lives on the beach about a mile and a half from the cruise-ship dock say they saw a foamy, white discharge emerging from the Celebrity cruise ship Galaxy on May 29.

The frothy substance washed up on the beach, covering about 200 yards of shoreline, according to Joey Jacobson, 16, who photographed the discharge.

``We fish and put crab pots out and we go swimming in the water. If there's mashed-up stuff coming out of the ship, we don't want to be swimming in it,'' Jacobson said.

Royal Caribbean, which owns Celebrity, denies anything illegal took place.

The Haines-based Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters has petitioned the state Office of Special Prosecutions to charge the cruise line under a provision of state water-quality law that bars the release of anything that creates a sheen or leaves sludge on the waters or shorelines of Alaska.

Kevin Burke, an attorney with that office, said Wednesday he just learned of the incident and would look into it.

State and federal officials said it would be difficult to prove the charges because no discharge samples were taken and more than two months have elapsed since the alleged incident took place.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean says its pollution-control practices are state of the art and that it is investing heavily in new technology to treat wastewater before it's pumped out.

``To the best of my knowledge, all of our discharges in Alaska are legal,'' said Nancy Wheatley, the company's senior environmental official.

The cruise line was unaware of the environmental group's allegation until Wednesday but said it would be willing to discuss any concerns with the group or with regulators.

Coast Guard officials said the Jacobsons should have reported the incident right away.

The agency would have responded immediately as it did earlier this summer when someone reported a questionable discharge coming from a cruise ship in Prince William Sound, said Coast Guard Capt. Ed Page, chief of marine safety in Alaska. The mysterious substance, which appeared to be an oil slick, turned out to be wind-whipped pollen, he said.

Royal Caribbean is on probation for pollution violations in Southeast Alaska and other U.S. ports for incidents in the mid-1990s. The company paid $18 million in fines last year to settle 21 felony counts. Management has changed since the violations occurred, and the company's new president has vowed to improve environmental practices.

Royal Caribbean and the other major cruise lines are submitting to voluntary tests of their wastewater this year by an independent contractor under an agreement among regulators, cruise lines and environmentalists.

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