International ocean conservation group Oceana hailed the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Congress that would set strict pollution limits on cruise ship wastewater. Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and in the House by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., the Clean Cruise Ship Act of 2005 would prohibit discharges of sewage, graywater and bilge waste within 12 miles of U.S. shores, require state-of-the-art treatment for any releases beyond 12 miles in U.S. waters, require regular inspections of discharge operations and equipment, and create a three-year program placing independent observers onboard cruise vessels to monitor compliance with environmental laws.
“This bill will close the legal loopholes that allow cruise companies to dump raw sewage just three miles offshore,” said Dawn Winalski, Oceana’s Campaign Projects Manager. “Senator Durbin and Congressman Farr deserve great praise for their persistent efforts to clean up our seas.”
Though wastes generated by cruise ships are equivalent to those of a small city, the cruise ship industry is currently exempt from many Clean Water Act requirements that apply to wastes generated by municipalities and land-based industries. Cruise ships are not required to monitor or report wastes discharged into the oceans, and cruise lines have paid more than $40 million in fines and penalties since 1999 for violating the few federal laws that regulate their pollution. Moreover, most of the cruise industry has been unwilling to upgrade onboard sewage treatment systems outside of Alaska, where stricter standards apply.
Only one major cruise line, Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, has agreed to install advanced wastewater treatment technology fleet-wide – a commitment that resulted from an 11-month campaign by Oceana. Oceana has fiercely advocated for stronger state and federal cruise pollution laws, meeting with success last year in California when the state passed two laws that stop cruise ships from dumping toilet, sink and shower waste in California’s coastal waters.
“Environmentally, we are in dangerous waters, and we should turn this ship around before it’s too late,” said Sen. Durbin. “Massive cruise ships we see in prime-time commercials are also massive ocean polluters that dump waste at sea because they are exempt from the Clean Water Act. We must close this cruise ship pollution loophole and work towards a sustainable ocean policy.”
“Every week, a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship generates over a million gallons of black water, gray water and oily bilge water – and according to current law they are free to dump this waste water almost anywhere along our coastline, except in Alaska and California. Our oceans are our largest public trust. All of us, from fishermen to scientists to cruise ship operators, depend on their health, and they deserve federal protection. This bill is a simple solution to a problem we know about and know we have the technology to solve,” said Rep. Farr.
The Clean Cruise Ship Act would substantially reduce the levels of bacteria and other wastes in treated sewage and graywater discharged beyond 12 miles by requiring better waste treatment. In addition, it would require the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency to issue final standards taking into account the best available technology, with the goal of zero pollutant discharges from sewage or gray water. It would also implement whistleblower protection for employees who report employers’ noncompliance with the Act and empower citizens to enforce the law.