Cruise Ship Environmental Issues

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When one thinks of cruise ships, one thinks of grand luxury, solitude, safety, and big. The January 13 capsizing of the Concordia off the coast of Italy, in which at least 11 people died, caught the world — including the cruise ship industry and its passengers — off guard and is shining a spotlight on cruise ship safety and environmental issues. The cruise ship hit a reef and nearly hit their fuel tanks. There was also concern over how the passengers were evacuated in this disaster. Beyond that there are other environmental concerns such as cruise ships air emissions and sanitary waste discharges.

It was only luck that the ship’s oil is not already spewing into the sea—the hole in the hull missed the fuel tanks by a few feet, according to reports.

However, there are “normal” emissions or discharges from cruise ships at all times.

According to EPA cruise ships were involved in 87 confirmed illegal discharge cases from 1993 to 1998. Most of these involved the accidental discharge of oil or related substances. A few of the 87 cases involved large numbers of illegal discharge incidents. In addition, 17 other alleged incidents were referred to countries where the cruise ships were registered because the incidents occurred outside U.S. waters or because jurisdiction could not be clearly ascertained.

What sort of waste discharges are there? EPA was petitioned to review and study these issues. The petitioner raised the following points:

Black Water (sewage): A typical cruise ship generates as much as 210,000 gallons during a one-week voyage.

Gray Water (shower, sink, and galley water): A typical cruise ship is estimated to generate up to one million gallons a week. The petition states that current Federal regulations do not restrict gray water discharges except in the Great Lakes, and that gray water may pose environmental impacts as great or greater than sewage.

Hazardous Waste (waste from dry cleaning, photo labs, paint, and maintenance chemicals, etc.)

Solid Waste (food waste, plastic, paper, wood, cardboard, cans, glass, etc.)

Oily Bilge Water: Cruise ships are estimated to generate up to 25,000 gallons on a one week voyage.

Then there are air emissions.

Cruise ships incinerate between 75% and 85% of garbage according to the EPA in its 2008 study, contributing to smog in coastal communities and on the ocean. They also release incinerator ash and sewage sludge — blobs of concentrated toxins from the bottom of waste treatment facilities — into the ocean. They contribute nutrients, metals, ammonia, pharmaceutical waste, chemical cleaners and detergent to deep marine environments from sewage treatment systems that either don’t work as planned or aren’t able to remove such substances, according to tests in Washington and Alaska, interviews with state officials, the EPA study, and information provided by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It’s legal to discharge untreated sewage in most areas of the United States farther than three miles from shore. But if you are 4 miles out?

Cruise ships burn fuel, much of it a cheap grade, which will continue until new international fuel standards take effect in 2012. A 2005 study done by WashPIRG, a public interest advocacy group based in Washington, estimates a 3,000-passenger ship generates the air pollution equivalent of more than 12,000 cars in a single day.

Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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