Cruise Ship Industry Needs to Embrace Sustainability or Sink

ship_pollution_xsmallIt must be pretty damaging for any industry’s reputation to be labeled Dinosaur of the Year. And that’s what the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) has called the cruise ship industry. NABU, which is based in Germany, singled out cruise lines AIDA and TUI to get their yearly trophy, which goes to people or companies with “the most ridiculous statement or anachronistic decision in connection with Nature and the Environment.”

According to NABU, cruise ships emit particle pollution that equals the amount released by five million cars driving the same distance as the cruise ship tears through the ocean. The organization said the luxury cruise ship industry has made no investments to move away from heavy fossil fuel oil or to install filters to reduce the pollution they dump into the oceans. It added that the 15 largest cruise ships emit as much sulfur dioxide pollution annually as all 760 million cars in the world. Not much glamour or luxury in that, is there?

Figures revealed by environmental NGO Friends of the Earth are alarming. A large cruise ship on a one week voyage is estimated to generate:

• 210,000 gallons of human sewage,
• 1 million gallons of gray water (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, and galleys),
• 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water,
• Up to 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge, and
• More than 130 gallons of hazardous wastes.

The NGO says most of this waste is dumped directly into the ocean, treated or not. Luxury liners also spew a range of pollutants into the air that can lead to acid rain and contribute to global warming. On top of all that, they can spread invasive species by dumping untreated ballast water in coastal zones.

To add to the problem, as more people pursue travelling as a leisure activity, the number of cruise ships in U.S. waters, as well as across the seven seas, has triggered a cruise ship pollution crisis. FoE says environmental laws have not kept pace with the industry’s growth, which reaches pristine waters, leaving a rotten track in its trail.

Back in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to respond to a petition filed by 53 groups and issued a draft report assessing discharges from cruise ships. “Now that EPA has finally agreed to release this report, the public must submit comments compelling the EPA to regulate these floating cities and protect the very places people are paying to visit,” Teri Shore of Friends of the Earth said at the time.

The EPA draft report found that cruise ship discharges contain concentrations of bacteria, chlorine, nutrients, metals and other pollutants that often far exceed federal effluent and water quality standards and are harmful to human health and the marine environment. The report estimated that cruise ships produce an average of 21,000 gallons per day of sewage and 170,000 gallons per day of raw graywater that can contain as much bacteria as sewage. Large volumes of highly concentrated sewage sludge are also routinely dumped overboard. The report found that even the Advanced Wastewater Treatment systems required in Alaska were far from perfect.

At a time when the health of our oceans is seriously threatened, it is distressing to see an industry turning its back on sustainability. Consumers have a role to play by refusing to participate in this vandalization of the oceans.

Image credit: FoE

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