Between the several cruise ship accidents that have taken place over the past year, including the Costa Concordia tragedy, and environmental agencies pushing for more eco-friendly measures, the cruise industry has been facing a lot of scrutiny. Now, the industry might be facing even more negative attention after the Parnell Administration in Alaska has expressed interest in changing part of the 2006 cruise ship initiative, which had previously required stricter standards for wastewater discharges.
The administration has introduced a bill this session at the governor’s request that would allow more chemicals and minerals to be released into the water. According to supporters, the chemical levels would still be safe, but opponents are not thrilled about the idea of adding even more contaminants into the ocean.
Senate Bill 29 had its first hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Resources Committee. According to Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig, the bill would allow a more practical approach to controlling pollution.
“It recognizes that it’s really difficult, if not impossible, for many dischargers to meet the water quality standards at the point of discharge,” said Hartig. “So they allow a limited area of mixing the treated effluent … with the receiving water at the edge of the mixing zone. “
Maritime safety should be a concern of the cruise industry, not just the safety of passengers and crewmembers, but of marine life and natural ecosystems. Instead of trying to improve standards, the industry has asked state officials to make the change because the new standards that are scheduled to begin in 2015 are impossible to cruise lines to meet.
Hartig contends wastewater-control measures would remain in effect under the new bill, but the measure is not without opposition. Chip Thoma, president of Responsible Cruising in Alaska, believes cruise ships have already made significant safety changes to reduce their impact on the environment.
“I think the bill is unnecessary,” said Thoma. “And the reason is because the cruise ships and DEC have made such great improvements in the last few years in lessening the effects of some of their discharge problems.”
However, both Thoma and Hartig agree that it is vital that cruise ship wastewater be stripped of copper, which can negatively affect fish like salmon. They explain that newer ships do not have that issue.
“These are older ships that were all piped with copper. The new ships are all flex-piped with plastic. It’s an incredible revolution. Just in the last few years, we’ve eliminated the copper problem on the new ships,” said Thoma.