Coast Guard Continues Spill Investigation

Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Investigators from the Coast Guard marine safety office here are continuing to look into what caused a Holland America cruise ship to spill partially treated wastewater into Gastineau Channel here August 17. The Juneau Harbormaster contacted the Coast Guard around 8 p.m. August 17 reporting that a brownish color substance discharged form the Ryndam. Coast Guard MSO Juneau investigators responded to the scene immediately and took samples of the discharge flowing from the Ryndam. Preliminary findings suggest that roughly 40,000 gallons of wastewater from sinks, showers and the sewage system transferring into the number six portside double bottom holding tank exceeded capacity, and subsequently discharged out a vent and into Alaska waters. Once the vessel’s crew realized that a discharge occurred, they diverted the sewage to an empty tank to prevent further spillage. “We’re in the process of sorting through the details of the incident to verify our preliminary findings, and afterwards we’ll take whatever corrective action needs to be taken”, said Lt. Cmdr. George Paitl, MSO Juneau’s Executive Officer. According to Paitl, actions against the cruise line responsible for the spill could face thousands of dollars in civil penalties. “The maximum civil penalty allowed under federal law is $25,000 per day per violation. Right now our focus is on the investigation…that is, we’re still in the investigative phase of piecing together what actually happened, and then we’ll identify corrective action as appropriate to prevent future incidents. Paitl also added that he’s pleased to know that community involvement in reporting such incidents remains active. “We take our responsibility as lead federal agency for environmental protection very seriously, and we’ll certainly follow-up on any potential violations of environmental law. We’re working closely with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as well as with Holland America Line…and we’re tackling this issue jointly”, said Paitl. Paitl also said that Holland America Line officials are also conducting its own investigation into the cause of the spill and plan to conduct an experiment to reenact the incident and more accurately identify the amount of wastewater discharged. Meantime, another cruise ship entering the port of Juneau Monday experienced a three-minute power outage that disabled the ship’s steering and propulsion capability. The ship, while in Frederick Sound and preparing to transit into Gastineau Channel, reported the power loss to Coast Guard officials here at about 8 a.m. Monday.
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