Brazilian Cruise Pollution Debate Continues: Sewage or Silt?

A week ago we discussed a controversy which erupted in Brazil when around 60 bathers on Turtle Beach in the beautiful resort town of Buzios became ill. Government officials suspected that a cruise ship discharged noxious liquids and waste into the waters. 

A newspaper in Brazil, Globo, covered the story and posted aerial photographs of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship with discolored water around it.  It looked to me that the muddy-looking water was probably sand and silt which had been churned up by the vessel's engines. We posted the photos on line. The issue nonetheless remained what made the bathers at the beach so sick?

Brazil took samples of the contaminated water at the beach, as well as samples from several cruise ships in the area. The test results were inconclusive. The cruise association in Brazil denies that any of the cruise ships discharged anything and maintains that all ships comply with international maritime standards addressing the discharge of waste water.

The controversy reported in the press has led to at least one cruise passenger coming forward to claim that other cruise ships may be fouling the waters in Brazil.

Globo reports that cruise passenger Jesus Alcinir, age 50, from Panama, was sailing on the MSC Orchestra with his family last November to Buzios. He observed what he believed was a nasty looking and terribly smelling liquid that seemed to leave the ship. He took a photograph which you can see below.

He told Globo: "I was watching the sea. That transparent color, that blue sea with green, when out of nowhere this spot that seemed to come out of our ship emerged. The smell was very strong at the time and I was upset to hear that it could be some fluid that would be polluting the environment."

A crew member said that because the ship just stopped and lowered an anchor, silt would have been disrupted and muddied the water.

Passenger Alcinar was unconvinced, particularly because of the strong smell. 

I suppose that the smell could have been from the muck and perhaps decomposing organic material like seaweed. I would also think that if the cruise ship was going to illegally open its bilges, it would do so at night while the ship was underway. 

No samples were taken of the water. 

Being accused of discharging waste in Brazilian waters in the last thing that MSC needs. Last December we posted a video of MSC crew members seemingly throwing garbage bags in the water near a marine sanctuary in Brazil. 

Sewage or silt? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

MSC Orchestra Cruise Ship

Photo Credit: Jesus Alcinir via Globo

Governor Parnell Continues to Advance Dirty Cruise Industry's Interests

Governor Parnell and the pro-cruise pollution legislators in Alaska have some new talking points in their efforts to weaken the cruise line waste water restrictions. They say that its not the cruise sewage that will harm the state's image but their opponents' "hype" that easing the standards will result in "dirty water and terrible discharges."        

Putting aside for a moment the nasty spectacle of dumping partially treated sewage into the water, the fact is that cruise ship water treatment devices clearly do not treat all of the wastewater discharged in Alaskan waters in compliance with Alaska’s water quality standards regarding ammonia, as well as the heavy metals - copper, nickel and zinc.

Alaska Cruise Ship Pollution It's unhealthy and dangerous to release these heavy metals into the waters where they will find their way in the fish, particularly salmon. 

Three years ago, the cruise industry flat out threatened Governor Parnell that it would boycott Alaska unless he would agree to work with the cruise lines to avoid pollution regulations. Read Governor Parnell Gets Punked.

Instead of demanding better technologies to address this problem, as required by the 2006 initiatives, Governor is heading the state in the other direction where no efforts will be made to address the problems with heavy metals. Meanwhile, the sewage (whether partially treated or not) will continue to fill the Alaskan waters.   

A newspaper in Ketchikan explains that this is a huge problem given the enormous amount of sewage and toxic by-products which cruise ships will dump in Alaskan waters:

"About 30 cruise ships carrying a total of nearly one million people visit Alaska over a five month period. This result is over one billion gallons of cruise discharges being dumped into unknown areas of Alaska state waters every year."

The newspaper also points out that on January 29th, as the relaxed laws were being fast tracked by legislators, Princess Cruises was fined $20,000 (a slap on the wrist) when one of its cruise ships, the 2,590 passenger Golden Princess, discharged 66,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  

Zinc, nickel and copper in the fish and chlorine in the water. Alaska is heading backwards.

Read our last article on these disturbing developments in Alaska:

The Dirty Alaskan Cruise Industry Just Got Dirtier

Princess Cruises Fined for Dumping 66,000 Gallons of Chlorinated Water into Glacier Bay in Alaska

KTOO news station in Alaska reports today that the Environmental Protection Agency fined Princess Cruises $20,000 for dumping water from six swimming pools aboard the Golden Princess cruise ship into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in 2011.

The EPA announced the fine against the cruise line yesterday.

Princess was forced to sign a consent agreement admitting responsibility and subjecting itself to a final court order. Princess admitted that it violated the Clean Water Act in May 2011 when it discharged Princess Cruises Pollution Glacier Bay Alaskamore than 66,000 gallons of pool water into the pristine waters of Glacier Bay.

Princess Cruises claims that a "software malfunction," on the Golden Princess, somehow caused all six of the pool valves to open. This dumped chlorinated water from all of the cruise ship’s pools as well as whirlpools into the national park and preserve.

The waste-water permits for large cruise ships prohibit the discharge of pool and spa water in national parks and refuges. 

The fine comes at a time when the Governor of Alaska is agreeing to roll back the strict water emission laws of Alaska as urged by the cruise industry

Princess Cruises has the worst environmental record in the Alaskan waters, and has been caught discharging illegal levels of waste water over the recent years.  Before the state of Alaska began passing strict environmental laws, the cruise industry openly dumped raw sewage and chemicals throughout the Alaskan waters.   

"Most Wanted" for Cruise Ship Pollution: Royal Caribbean Chief Engineer Michael Psomadakis - But Is He Really The Only Culprit?

Do you know this former Royal Caribbean crew member?

He's on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s "Most Wanted" List. Here's the story:

In 1993, Michael Evangelos Psomadakis was the chief engineer aboard RCCL's Nordic Empress cruise ship which routinely discharged oil into the water. But the Nordic Empress was no island to itself.  RCCL's fleet of ships was regularly dumping pollutants from Biscayne Bay here in Miami to the pristine waters in Alaska.

The pollution was right outside of the cruise executives' offices at the port of Miami all of the way to Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Pollution Alaska and back.  I can't imagine the abuse of the waters in Europe, Africa, and South America.

There were many Psomadakis's throughout the RCCL fleet of cruise ships.  

Psomadakis - like his employer Royal Caribbean - lied to the Coast Guard about the pollution. A big mistake. This was no Bush administration with its let's-trust-the-big-corporations-and-look-the-other-way mentality. The U.S. justice system, under the leadership of environmentalist Janet Reno, investigated Royal Caribbean and discovered that many RCCL cruise ships were dumping oil & chemicals throughout their routes. A nasty business. Ms. Reno caught the Royal Caribbean bad boys under the corporate leadership of CEO Richard Fain, who claimed to know nothing, with their proverbial pants down.   

Attorney General Reno slammed the cruise line, calling the cruise line "flim-flam" artists. She oversaw the imposition of penalties totaling $27,000,000 for engaging in a "fleet wide conspiracy . . . to save millions of dollars by dumping oily waste into the ocean," according to the the New York Times.

The case was prosecuted here in U.S. courts even though the cruise line claimed that the U.S. had no authority because the company was registered in Liberia and the cruise ship flew a flag of convenience in Liberia (and Liberia had already dismissed the case of course).

Psomadakis escaped FBI agents at a Miami hotel "simply by walking out another exit," as reported by the New York Times. He got away from the FBI and made it back to back to Greece all by himself?

At the end of the day, Royal Caribbean admitted it was a corporate felon, no only for the illegal discharges but for systematically lying to the Coast Guard and Attorney General's office for years. The New York Times article covered the story

If you are interested in what the environment would be like without the U.S. government regulating a renegade Liberian-incorporated-corporation like Royal Caribbean, take a read of the New York Times article here.   

The problem was that Royal Caribbean didn't change it's ways. After the first two million-dollar-fines, Royal Caribbean continued to illegally discharge oil, waste and fecal matter everywhere.  The illegal discharges even increased, reflecting the arrogance of the Liberian holier-than-thou corporation. The cruise line responded with a bogus marketing campaign claiming that it was an environmental steward Royal Caribbean Save the Waves - Cruise Ship Pollution of the seas.  It adopted a PR campaign that it was "Saving the Waves" (see photo) by encouraging its employees (and guests) not to throw any garbage overboard.

But while the crew members wore their "Save the Waves" buttons above deck and served passengers cocktails, Royal Caribbean engineers below the decks fabricated secret by-pass values to dump everything from raw sewage to chemicals used in the photography labs directly into the ocean.  Do you really believe that the cruise executives didn't know?

Fifteen years later, CEO Fain and President Goldstein are still at the helm of the cruise line. Fall guy Psomadakis is on the lam. Yeah, an engineer from Greece is the real culprit behind the wide spread fleet-wide dumping and defiance of the U.S government. 

The most recent news from this cruise lines?  Royal Caribbean will soon deliver us another ostentatious, Oasis-class, bunker-fuel burning, polluting, gigantic cruise ship, ordered by the least environmentally friendly, flim-flam cruise line in the industry.    

Cruise Ships Turn British Columbia Waters into "Toilet Bowel of Raw Sewage"

The Vancouver Sun published a provocative headline this weekend entitled "B.C. Waters a Toilet Bowl of Raw Sewage."

It caught my attention after my family just returned from a vacation from British Columbia, where my kids surfed and we went whale watching in the B.C. waters.

Environmentalists' believe that waters off British Columbia in Canada are the "toilet bowl of North America" as dozens of cruise ships heading to and from Alaska dump sewage in Canadian waters.  U.S. regulations in states like Alaska and Washington have tightened in the last decade Cruise Ship Pollution - Waste Water - Black Water - Grey Waterforcing cruise ships to follow stringent sewage treatment rules before disposing of waste those states.

The article indicates that cruise ships have another option: they can dump sewage and grey water —waste water from showers, sinks and laundry — into B.C. waters where rules are "lax."

Cruise ships are taking advantage of Canada's weaker laws on sewage discharge to save money.

"B.C. is now the toilet bowl of the West Coast of North America. In Canada, says Ross Klein, a professor in Canada.  Klein points out that Alaska and Washington monitors grey water discharges, but there is no such monitoring in Canada where cruise ships are free to dump.

The article points out that the U.S. cracked down on cruise ships in 2007 when the Mercury cruise ship operated by Celebrity Cruises was caught illegally dumping into waters between Washington and Vancouver Island.

The Mercury faced 10 charges, but three charges were dropped because the infractions were in Canada.  Celebrity received a $100,000 fine in Washington, but didn't face any punishment in Canada.

I have written many articles about the cruise industry's practice of pollution  Here are a few to consider:

Earth Day - Spotlight on Cruising - A Dirty Business

Cruise Industry: "Notorious Polluters"

Reason No. 8 Not To Cruise: Blackwater, Blackwater, Blackwater

Reason No. 9 Not To Cruise: Bunker Fuel - Nasty Tar Sludge!

Dirty Cruise Industry Tries to Wiggle Out Of Clean Air Law

When I began practicing maritime law, cruise lines openly dumped raw sewage into the water and threw hundreds of black garbage bags overboard during every cruise.  Only through the enactment and enforcement of legislation has there been an improvement in the U.S.   But the cruise lines are free to pollute in the waters of countries like Canada and the powerless Caribbean islands which are desperate for U.S. tourist dollars.  

 

Credits:

Cruise Ship Cartoon      Shields via EarthIsland.org and Campaign to Safeguard America's Waterways

Cruise Ships in South Carolina - Harmless Fun or Environmental Scourge?

The Charleston City Paper has an interesting headline this morning - "Are Cruise Ship Harmless Fun Or An Environmental Scourge?"

The article raises the issue of how South Carolina will face its future as a state with a major cruise port.  Unlike progressive states like Alaska, California and Maine which regulate waste water discharges, the state of South Carolina has no state regulations relating to the cruise industry. This leaves the cruise lines subject to only lax international regulations, which have not been updated for a long time and which the cruise lines have routinely violated anyway. 

Cruise Ship Pollution - Bunker Fuel - Blackwater What's remarkable about the article is that it reveals that cruise lines can legally dump garbage and untreated sewage overboard when the ships are at least three miles offshore. 

Although the cruise industry claims that it dumps untreated sewage ("blackwater") only 12 miles from shore, the effects of the human waste from thousands of passengers and crew are disastrous.   The waste dumped by cruise ships into the water contains bacteria, pathogens, disease, intestinal parasites, pharmaceuticals, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous and - whenever there is a norovirus outbreak - gallons and gallons of infected feces which, in turn, are consumed by fish and filter-fed by shellfish.

We have touched upon dumping feces just 12 miles off the coast of South Carolina before - "Can Sick Cruise Ships Cause Norovirus Outbreaks in Ports?"

You can carefully read all of the press releases and letters to the editors by the cruise industry, but  nowhere will you see a strict commitment from cruise lines not to dump untreated sewage.  This is not only gross, but its an unnecessary hazard to the health of humans, marine life and coral systems wherever cruise ships sail.  As pointed out by the non-profit organization Friends of the Earth:

"The contaminants in human waste and wastewater – known as blackwater or sewage – pose a risk to public health not only through the food supply, as fisheries and shellfish beds can be contaminated, but also through direct contamination of water ingested by surfers, beachgoers, and water-sport enthusiasts. In addition, blackwater contains nitrogen and phosphorus that promote excessive algal growth, which in turn consumes oxygen in the water and can lead to fish kills and the destruction of other aquatic life, including coral . . ."

Is cruising fun?  Is it harmful to the environment?  Yes, to both questions.

That's why South Carolina would be smart to protect its waters and its people from the scourge of cruise pollution and adopt wastewater regulations similar to those enacted in Alaska.

For additional information, consider reading: "Cruise Ships In Charleston."

 

Credits:

Photograph              Coastal Conversation League