April 1, 2004 A bill going before Congress on Thursday could bar cruise ships from dumping an estimated 4 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean annually.
The bill, known as the Clean Cruise Ship Act, will require cruise ships to install wastewater treatment plants, consent to regular inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency and create a 12-mile zone around all coasts where dumping of any kind is prohibited. It is sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.
The amount of waste in question is "around 350 times the Exxon Valdez," Durbin spokesman Aaron Goldberg said by telephone from Washington. "So we're not talking about small amounts."
More than 9.2 million people vacation on cruise ships each year, producing as much as 95 gallons of wastewater a day per person. Cruise ships dump an estimated 4 billion gallons of sewage, wastewater from sinks, showers and laundry facilities–known as gray water–and oily bilge water each year, according to The Ocean Conservancy, the world's oldest and largest ocean environmental advocacy group.
Laws regulating the cruise industry were developed in the 1970s when the average cruise ship held around 800 passengers. With modern ships often ferrying more than 5,000 passengers, advocacy groups say the environmental impact has drastically changed.
Under current law, wastewater from sanitation and medical facilities can be dumped three miles out at sea. Gray water can be discharged almost anywhere. According to the Ocean Conservancy, the average cruise ship dumps between 95,000 and 255,000 gallons of gray water a day.
The bill calls for ships to be retrofitted over the next three years, at a cost of about $2.5 million per ship.
That figure, according to the environmental protection group Oceana, works out to about one can of soda per passenger for three years.
The bill limits the cost for compliance renovations to $10 per passenger.
Goldberg said the cruise ship industry is highly profitable, growing rapidly and should not be adversely affected by the legislation.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, one of the world's most popular cruise destinations, 817 cruise ships stopped in 2003. An estimated 950 will visit this year.
Nick Drayton of The Ocean Conservancy's Virgin Islands office, said cruise lines and ports should welcome the legislation because it protects the natural beauty they profit from.
"We're dealing with here, to some extent, corporate responsibility," Drayton said.
Representatives of the West Indian Co., which controls all cruise ship traffic in this U.S. Caribbean territory, said they could not comment on the impending legislation. The territory's Department of Planning and Natural Resources could not be reached.
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