Oceana Chief Executive Officer Andrew Sharpless spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill today to urge the passage of a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress that would set strict pollution limits on cruise ship wastewater. The Clean Cruise Ships Act of 2004, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and in the House by Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), 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.
“Cruise companies benefit from legal loopholes that allow them to dump raw sewage once a ship is three miles offshore,” said Sharpless. “One of Oceana’s primary aims is to stop cruise pollution in our oceans, and we are extremely excited about this bill’s potential to do that. It has been a pleasure working with Senator Durbin and Congressman Farr on this legislation. They deserve tremendous credit for spotlighting this critical issue and doing something to clean up our seas.”
Though wastes generated by cruise ships are equivalent to those of a small city, the 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 cruise pollution. Moreover, most of the cruise industry has been unwilling to upgrade onboard sewage treatment systems outside of Alaska, where stricter standards apply.
“It is time to put away the cruise ship brochures and vacation pictures and do more than dangle our toes in the water,” said Senator Durbin. “We need to wade in and insist on policy changes at the local, state and national levels. This bill is a call to elected leaders and Administration officials to close the cruise ship loophole and make development of a sustainable ocean policy a priority before it is too late.”
“Every week a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship generates over a million gallons of black water, gray water and oily bilge water – and as the law stands now they are free to dump this waste water almost anywhere along our coastline except in Alaska. And, as my constituents in the Monterey Bay area well know, often ‘voluntary agreements’ are not enough to ensure that dumping won’t happen: that’s why we need this legislation to prevent cruise ship dumping within 12 miles of the U.S. coast,” said Representative Farr. “We live off our oceans, from fishermen to scientists to cruise ship operators, and we need to start being better stewards of our oceans if we want them to survive for future generations.”
In addition to restricting waste discharge within twelve miles of shore and requiring independent monitors, the Clean Cruise Ships Act would substantially reduce the levels of fecal coliform and chlorine in treated sewage and graywater discharged beyond twelve miles 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 graywater by 2015. It would also implement whistleblower protection for employees who report employers’ noncompliance with the Act and empower citizens to enforce the law.
For more than a year, Oceana has been engaged in a national campaign to reform waste treatment practices in the cruise industry. It has called for fleet-wide installation of advanced wastewater treatment technology, as well as independent, third-party monitoring of waste treatment practices. Oceana has made its cruise campaign one of only three primary organizational priorities for protecting the oceans.