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US: New Law to Cut Down on Cruise Ship Waste

Associated Press
April 14th, 2005

The cruise industry has gotten so big that all its ships together could hold each of Miami's 360,000 residents with room to spare. And just like cities, cruise lines have to deal with a nasty problem: the millions of gallons of sewage those people produce.
While the industry is installing equipment that one executive says makes sewage and other wastewater almost as "clean as Perrier," environmentalists, state officials and some members of Congress are pushing to toughen what they call outdated marine pollution standards.

They have worked on the Clean Cruise Ship Act with two environmental groups, the Bluewater Network and Oceana. Alaska, California and Maine have already passed stronger laws.

But the cruise industry argues the new standards aren't based on science and that most water pollution comes from sources on land. The industry is waiting for federal Environmental Protection Agency data due in a few months that will show how well the new treatment systems worked on wastewater dumped in Alaska.

"Public policy dictates that we make good informed decisions based on science and not based on two polarized groups," said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, an industry group that represents companies like Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. He said complying with the bill would cost billions of dollars.

Currently, the federal Clean Water Act from the 1970s lets cruise ships dump raw sewage anywhere outside of a three-nautical mile limit from U.S. shores. Inside that territorial water boundary, cruise ships can release sewage only after reducing its content of fecal coliform, a harmful bacteria found in human feces.

The industry group has voluntarily agreed to exceed those rules. It says member lines treat all sewage and discharge it only when ships are at least four nautical miles from shore (12 miles for Royal Caribbean) and moving at least 6 knots to better disperse it. The same distances are used for the "gray water" drained from showers, sinks and washing machines. Each ship generates up to 1 million gallons of waste water per week.

Environmentalists argue that self-imposed rules aren't enough, calling the monitoring for compliance spotty, at best.

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., plan to reintroduce their bill Thursday in Congress, where it died last year after receiving little support. It would apply to cruise ships able to carry at least 250 passengers.

Under the act, cruise ships from 12 to 200 nautical miles from U.S. coasts could discharge sewage, bilge water or other wastewater only if they are treated to reduce levels of fecal coliform and other pollutants to meet standards much stricter than current law.

Ships within 12 nautical miles of U.S. shores couldn't release any treated or untreated wastewater. Cruise companies would have three years to meet the standards. By 2015, all pollutants would have to be eliminated from wastewater before dumping. The Coast Guard would test wastewater samples for compliance.

The cruise industry isn't alone in its opposition to the bill. While the EPA appreciates the attempt, it's premature to establish new national standards without the Alaska data, said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Water.

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