Report: New cruise ship rules working

Tougher requirements, better systems are cutting down on pollutants created by ships

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A new state report says tougher regulations designed to protect Alaska's waters from cruise-ship pollution effectively protect the environment.

The report, released Tuesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, found that newly installed waste treatment systems on ships filter out much of the bacteria and other pollutants generated on board. The wake of the ships effectively dilutes what is released, the study said.

The report resulted from more than a year and a half of research by a panel of independent scientists from Alaska, Canada and several Western states.

After public concern over cruise-ship discharges, the state and federal governments toughened laws and increased oversight in the last few years.

The scientists concluded in the new report that a properly maintained, well-managed, modern cruise ship will not release chemicals into the environment in amounts that would cause "measurable negative environmental impact." They added one warning, though. The assumption is based on the ships "operating in full compliance with government regulations." The report did not examine compliance.

"As long as everybody complies and the enforcement works," there's little cause for concern, said Michael Stekoll, a chemistry professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, who helped produce the study.

The Coast Guard inspects the fleet of foreign-flagged cruise ships that tour Alaska from May to September.

Aside from the illegal release of up to 40,000 gallons of wastewater into Juneau's harbor last summer by a Holland America ship, the Coast Guard found few problems with the big ships during the summer, said Stephen Ohnstad, the federal agency's captain of port in Juneau.

Another member of the nine-person committee said the cruise industry is doing a good job of cleaning its wastes before discharging them.

"Even though there are a few things that should be further investigated, overall, the marine resources of Alaska (are) protected by the cruise-ship regulations," said Charles McGee, a microbiologist with the Orange County, Calif., sanitation district.

John Hansen, executive director of the North West CruiseShip Association, said he was pleased with the findings.

"We thought it was important to have good-quality research. From what I see so far, this panel's report affirms that the programs we have in place are the right way to go."

Not everyone was satisfied. Michelle Wilson, a program coordinator with the Alaska Center for the Environment, said the state law adopted in July 2001 only regulates wastewater and sewage from the ships.

It doesn't address other waste streams, such as ballast water, bilge water or deck wash, she said.

Wilson was disappointed that the science panel didn't recommend no-discharge zones in sensitive areas, such as those frequented by endangered humpback whales or where subsistence hunters collect harbor seals.

"We're concerned that this report doesn't take a hard enough stand on an industry that is a notorious polluter," Wilson said.

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