Thick black smoke emanating from the Sun Princess cruise ship headed from Malaysia to Hong Kong in September 2012.
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It is well-known that cruises cause colossal amounts of pollution by pouring untreated sewage into the ocean. While some cruise lines do dispose of their waste responsibly, most unfortunately do not.
Cruise ships can carry as many as 5,000 passengers and function in rivers, seas, and oceans all over the planet. According to Friends of the Earth, a large cruise ship will release the following outrageous amounts of pollutants in one single week:
- 210,000 gallons of human waste
- 1 million gallons of gray water (water from sinks, showers, laundry, and galleys)
- 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
- Up to 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge
- More than 130 gallons of hazardous wastes
Some of this waste isn’t even treated prior to its release into the environment, and it excludes ballast water and air pollution.
Cruise ships contaminate marine and other ecosystems on various fronts: by releasing sewage, greywater, ballast water, bilge water, and solid waste; and through exhaust emissions, sound pollution, and oil spills, among others. Some of these problems are present in several types of vessels, such as large tankers, as well.
Case in point: Alaska
As Alaska is such a popular destination for cruise ships, it makes sense that Alaskans would notice the toxic discharges, be alarmed by them, and seek to limit the harm done to local fisheries such as pollock and salmon, which plenty of Alaskans depend on for their livelihood.
In 2006, Alaskans passed an initiative curbing the release of dangerous discharges from cruise ships. But the Alaskan government subsequently buckled under and weakened the requirements of the initiative due to pressure from the cruise industry. In 2009, a compromise passed by the Legislature pushed back the date for full execution of the discharge rules to 2016, meanwhile requiring the industry to employ the “most technologically effective” treatment methods. Except this didn’t work.
Earth Island Institute’s Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters and Friends of the Earth then challenged the permit in court, represented by Earthjustice. The Alaska Superior Court recently ruled that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) 2010 cruise ship wastewater discharge permit in fact did not show a correct interpretation of the law that requires cruise ships to use the most effective pollution prevention technologies, because it allowed ships to keep on discharging pollutants at current levels by claiming any technology already in use would be deemed the most effective, according to the green groups.
The permit decision will now return to Alaska for further review. Meanwhile, ships will be allowed to continue discharging under the 2010 permit. Sounds like Alaskans still have a long way to go. (Read more here.)
As the Arctic continues to melt, it is becoming increasingly imperative to do something about the pollution caused by cruise ships and other large vessels. Melting ice caps will only incite more fishing companies and cruise ship lines to explore the area – and leave their waste behind both in the water and in the air, further exacerbating ecological issues and accelerating climate change.