The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Obama administration will enforce a California law designed to prohibit cruise ships from dumping any kind of sewage — even highly filtered wastewater — along California’s coast out to three miles from shore.
California will now have among the strictest laws in the nation limiting pollution from large ships.
"This is going to cover the entire California coastline," said state Senator Joe Simitian "Oceangoing vessels should not consider our coastline a place for dumping sewage."
In 2005, Simitian wrote a bill that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger which signed banning sewage discharges in state waters from cruise ships. The bill — the first of its kind in the nation — made it illegal for such ships to discharge oily bilge water, "gray water" from sinks and showers and other hazardous waste. But a key provision that also banned sewage releases could not legally take effect until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave permission under the federal Clean Water Act. The Bush administration did not act on California’s request to enforce the state law.
The impetus behind the bill was a cruise dumping incident in In 2003. The Crystal Harmony (photo left) dumped around 35,000 gallons of grey water, sewage, and bilge water in a marine sanctuary in Monterey Bay.
According to the L.A. Times, Crystal Cruises said didn’t have to report the incident to authorities because it broke no laws. It is "perfectly legal" under maritime laws to discharge even untreated wastewater more than 12 miles offshore, and the ship was 14 miles offshore at the time, said Crystal spokeswoman Mimi Weisband.
"We didn’t break any law," Weisband said. "We did break a promise."
The city of Monterey thereafter banned all Crystal cruise ships for life.
"I remember picking up the paper and thinking, ‘you gotta be kidding me,’ " Senator Simitian said. "Their answer was ‘we didn’t break any rules.’ I remember thinking, if this isn’t against the law it ought to be."
In the 2010 Green Report Card by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Crystal Cruises received the lowest grade – "F." Cruise spokesperson Weisband responded by saying that Crystal Cruises "deserved an A … if not an A+."