Cruise ships dumping billions of litres of sewage into oceans

Cruise ships flushed more than 3.5 billion litres of sewage into the ocean this year, much of it raw or poorly treated, according to data analysed by Friends of the Earth. In a blow to transparency this year, the entire industry refused to reveal their environmental practices to the environmental organisation.

Friends of the Earth’s 2014 Cruise Ship Report Card reveals that some of the 16 cruise lines graded are slowly getting greener; but more than 40 per cent of the 167 ships still rely on 35-year-old waste treatment technology. Such antiquated treatment systems leave harmful levels of fecal matter, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants in the water. By law, wastewater dumped within three nautical miles of shore must be treated, but beyond that ships are allowed to dump raw sewage directly into the ocean.

In a complete reversal from prior years of cooperation and transparency, all 16 major cruise lines refused – through their industry association, Cruise Lines International Association – to respond to Friends of the Earth’s requests for information on their pollution-reduction technologies.

“By working to stifle the Cruise Ship Report Card, the industry attempted to shield itself from continued scrutiny of its environmental practices, and obscure data from conscientious consumers who would make different choices based on how a cruise ship or line performs on the report card,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth.

The report card grades cruise lines on four criteria: sewage treatment technology; whether ships can plug into shore-based power and if they use cleaner fuel than required by U.S. and international law; compliance with Alaska’s water quality regulations to protect the state’s coast; and transparency, which is a new criteria this year. All cruise lines were given an F in transparency because of their failure to cooperate this year.

Disney Cruise Line, based in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, was ranked as the most environmentally responsible line, earning an A for sewage treatment. At the other end of the scale, Carnival Cruise Lines of Doral, Florida – which has the world’s largest fleet of 24 cruise ships but only two with advanced sewage treatment technology – received an F for sewage treatment again this year.

The Environmental Protection Agency says an average cruise ship produces about 80,000 litres of sewage a day – enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 3.5 billion litres a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry greater numbers of passengers and crew and the report card doesn’t include the entire worldwide fleet.

Cruise ships are also responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the dirty fuel they burn. Even at the dock, cruise ships often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew.


Photo credit: Christopher, flickr/Creative Commons

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