My Turn: Are cruise companies clean enough?

Cruise lines want clean environment

Posted: Wednesday, September 06, 2000

As the 2000 cruise season draws to a close, we take this opportunity to thank the residents of Juneau and other communities for your hospitality, making possible the memorable vacations for the cruise guests who visited Alaska. This is also an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to high quality environmental stewardship in Alaska.

This summer, for the first time, in a voluntary program with Alaska DEC, EPA and under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard, we have undertaken a program of laboratory testing of wastewater from the cruise ships. While all the results are not in, the tests appear to show that out of over 100 potential pollutants, most are undetectable in the wastewater and of those that are detectable, the majority are well within acceptable limits. We will be analyzing the full implications of the information with the regulatory agencies once the data collection and analysis is complete in late September.

This being said, we are concerned that some of the wastewater samples have shown high coliform count. In light of this, we have taken the following action:

* We are continuing to work with the Coast Guard to determine if there are any operational or mechanical problems contributing to these readings. If there are technical problems, these will be fixed.

* We have undertaken a study to examine the dilution effect created by the action of the ship steaming through water and the propeller action to determine if there is cause for concern.

* We will conduct testing of ambient water quality in front of and behind cruise ships while underway to determine the impact of wastewater discharge. This will be done before the end of this season.

* We will engage a team of ocean scientists through the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward to help us understand the science of wastewater and to understand if there is any environmental impact.

Beyond this, all the cruise lines, engineering companies and shipyards are engaged in design and testing of new waste treatment systems. We are confident that those systems that work the best will become standard equipment on the cruise ships.

We are continuing the practice of no discharge of graywater or treated blackwater while in any Alaska port and only discharge when the ship is under wayyt a speed of six knots and greater. None of the ships discharge untreated sewage anywhere in the Inside Passage.

This year we entered into an agreement with the SE Alaska Petroleum Response Organization (SEAPRO) for effective oil response capability, should a spill occur from any cruise ship. As part of the deal the cruise lines bought four sets of oil response barges for SE Alaska for SEAPRO to operate. This equipment is available to serve in any spill cleanup, regardless of source.

This summer both DEC and EPA have been taking readings of visible smoke from the cruise ships, and their readers have cited some smoke levels above what is permissible in visible opacity. Discussions will take place between the individual cruise lines and the regulators about the circumstances of specific cases. Whatever the outcome, in terms of violations, we do not want to offend the residents of Juneau or any other city in Alaska with visible smoke. For this reason the masters and engineers onboard the ships have been exercising great care in the maintenance and operation of engines to minimize smoke. And each year, some of the older ships are being taken out of Alaska service and replaced with new vessels which, all things being equal, are cleaner than the ones they replace.

This summer we also addressed the question of impact on the ambient air quality in Juneau, with scientific air quality monitors in downtown Juneau. We are encouraged by the early results which show levels of SO2, NOX and particulates, even on peak traffic days to be far below government standards. The monitors will continue to the end of September, and the full data and analysis will be available for public discussion.

Our research in Alaska this year is at the forefront of efforts in maritime waste management, worldwide..hat we are doing in Alaska will set the benchmarks for all ships to meet in the future.

John Hansen is president of the North West CruiseShip Association.

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