Are Cruise Ships Polluting Brazil’s Turtle Beach?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

turtle beachCruise ships have faced scrutiny from many environmentalists for years over their harmful emissions, which have been known to affect natural marine habitats and marine life. Some regions are designated preservation areas, and if a cruise ship is found to have dumped waste or emit other harmful pollutants in the area, they are potentially liable for  expensive fines. Though there are rules regulating and limiting the amount of pollution ships can emit, not all cruise lines abide by these laws.

In the U.S., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency helps protect against cruise line discharge and waste. According to the EPA, cruise lines produce an excessive amount of garbage, sewage, and wastewater, which, unfortunately, ends up getting discharged into the sea, creating a threat to ecosystems, marine life, and even beach-goers. Sadly, there’s only so much the EPA as it seems as though all the policies and all the regulations still don’t prevent cruise ships from doing what they want when it comes to waste dumping.

According to Friends of the Earth, another environmental protection organization, the number of cruise lines committing these violations are even greater than we thought. Each year, the organization issues a Cruise Ship Report Card, which analyzes major cruise lines in their ability to stay up to date with environmental protection regulations and how each line goes about implementing pollution-reducing tactics. And each year, most cruise lines receive dreadful scores of “C” grades and less!

Here in the U.S., the maritime lawyers at our firm often hear about cruise line pollution in Alaska, where an abundance of natural habitats make it especially controversial when cruise lines don’t follow pollution rules. But now, reports are indicating that dumping issues are happing on a global level.

According to a report in the Globo newspaper, a turtle beach in Brazil now appears to be suffering from the consequences of cruise line pollution emissions. The beach, called Praia da Tartaruga in Portuguese, is a public beach near Búzios City, Brazil often frequented by children. There have been a number of growing cases where beach-goers have reported health issues, from gastrointestinal problems to difficulty breathing. So what exactly is causing these symptoms? According to some experts, it’s cruise line waste.

Environmental officials in Brazil believe that the victims are suffering as a result of waste discharge from one of three cruise ships that sail in the area. Samples were taken from the three ships, which called on the city of Búzios, to compare them with samples taken of the contaminated water at the turtle beach.

Though the ships have not been identified, the newspaper report contains a photo of a Royal Caribbean ship. Could Royal be the culprit? The latest Friends of the Earth Cruise Ship Report Card shows that Royal received an overall grade of “C”, which is not very good at all. Their individual grade for air pollution was an “F”, but their sewage treatment score was a surprising “A”. The score for water treatment was not available because those scores are based on emissions in Alaska, which Royal has never been found in violation of.

But regardless of which cruise line may be to blame, if the health issues were, in fact, caused by cruise line pollution, the line responsible may be looking at fines up to $50 million. Brazil takes environmental issues very seriously and will likely impose strict penalties against the line that’s at fault.

The Brazilian cruise organization denies the pollution is the fault of any of the cruise ships and contends its ships comply with the protocols set forth by the MARPOL Convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships). However, it wouldn’t be the first time a cruise line or an industry-affiliated organization has withheld incriminating evidence. We’ve yet to see if any cruise line will be blamed, but in the meantime, we certainly hope that pollution issues will be taken more seriously by cruise lines in the future.

There are several state-of-the-art systems in place that help eliminate toxins from waste. Royal has consistently received “A” grades for its sewage treatments. It’s air pollution policies need serious work, but from prior reports of the cruise line complying with environmental policies for its sewage treatment, it’s unlikely that any of the cruise line’s water emissions would be contaminated or hazardous for sea or human life.  Still, we can’t rule out the possibility just yet.

As of now, the beach has been closed until the health threat is lifted. We wish all victims a speedy recovery.

From our view, the pollution issue(s) just further highlight the need for tighter regulation of the industry as a whole.  Because without real oversight and real penalties and sanctions for violations of the rules, the cruise lines continue to not only put lives at risk, but the whole planet at risk.