Illegal Dumping Taints Norwegian's Sky

Friday, May 11, 2001
One of the first cruise ships to visit southeast Alaskan ports this season was cited for illegally dumping concentrated sewage into the scenic Inside Passage, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Thursday.

The Norwegian Sky, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, discharged the sewage for 20 to 30 minutes while it was traveling between Juneau and Ketchikan, the Coast Guard said. With the ship, (known as the first large cruise ship to dock this year in Juneau) traveling at about 17 knots, that means a waste stream of half to three-quarters of a mile, said a Coast Guard Commander.

Tests performed by an independent laboratory on effluent samples from the ship showed fecal coliform 3,500 times the allowable federal standard and suspended solids 180 times the standard, the Coast Guard said.

The violation comes as residents and government agencies have heightened their concerns about cruise ship pollution, and as officials here debate a possible new law that would make Alaska the first U.S. state to regulate the vessels.

"With all the media coverage and with all the efforts that we have taken to work with the industry ... I find it unusual that this would have occurred," the commander said.

It was the first known violation of a new federal law that sets standards for treated sewage from cruise ships and prohibits discharge of untreated sewage in the Inside Passage's so-called "donut holes," areas in the channel more than three miles from shore.

The civil penalty for such a violation is up to $25,000 a day, the Coast Guard said.

Gov. Tony Knowles, who is pushing for state legislation that would be stricter than the federal standard, believes the incident illustrates why the cruise industry needs stricter controls.

"It just shows the need for the state of Alaska to enforce its own standards and its own laws to protect our state waters," a spokesman for the Governor said.

The Coast Guard learned of the situation after Norwegian Cruise Lines last Friday reported it had discharged treated sewage the previous night in the donut hole areas.

Coast Guard investigators boarded the ship Friday when it was docked in Ketchikan to take effluent samples. Test results showed the effluent had 700,000 fecal coliform per 100 ml, the Coast Guard said. The federal standard is 200 fecal coliform per 100 ml.

Knowles, a Democrat, on Tuesday called state lawmakers back to the capital for a special session on cruise pollution after the Republican-controlled legislature adjourned without taking final action on a bill to regulate the huge ships.

The bill, similar to one Knowles introduced in March, calls for ships capable of carrying at least 50 overnight passengers to register with the state; adhere to state waste regulations that may be stricter than federal standards; be subject to state civil and criminal penalties for violations; and pay a $1-per-passenger fee to fund state monitoring and enforcement.

The House passed the bill on May 1, but it became bogged down in a Senate committee over the weekend.

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