George Town is some nautical miles ahead of its US counterparts regarding environmental regulations for cruise ships as it is a zero discharge area for cruise ships’ waste water and sewage.
Ships are not permitted to dispose of any type of waste within a 12 mile radius of George Town.
This, however, can be difficult to enforce, admitted Assistant Director Research and Assessment with Department of Environment Tim Austin.
The Department of Environment carries out harbour sampling on a quarterly basis and keeps a close eye out for any types of pollution. It scaled back recently on monthly checks as it had not been finding anything in the water.
The 12 mile radius includes a ban on the discharge of grey water, which is drained from showers, sinks and washing machines.
Outside of the 12 mile radius whatever is eliminated should have been treated to at least a secondary level, said Mr. Austin.
The Federal Clean Water Act in the United States lets cruise ships dump raw sewage anywhere outside a three nautical mile limit from US shores.
According to the Associated Press, ‘Inside that territorial water boundary ships can release sewage only after reducing its content of faecal coliform, harmful bacteria found in human faeces’.
It says that a cruise ship generates up to one million gallons of waste water per week.
However, the AP article also says that according to the International Council of Cruise Lines, an industry group representing companies such as Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., member lines treat all sewage and discharge it only when ships are at least four nautical miles from shore (12 miles for Royal Caribbean) and moving at least six knots to better disperse it. The same distances are used for ‘grey water’.
In the US, environmentalists, state officials and some members of Congress are pushing to toughen what they call outdated marine pollution standards, said AP.
Under a proposed act, cruise ships from 12 to 200 nautical miles from U.S. coasts could discharge sewage, bilge water or other wastewater only if they are treated to reduce levels of faecal coliform and other pollutants to meet standards much stricter than current law.
Under the proposed law ships within 12 nautical miles of US shores could not release any treated or untreated wastewater (the same as in Cayman waters). Cruise companies would have three years to meet the standards. By 2015, all pollutants would have to be eliminated from wastewater before dumping. The Coast Guard would test wastewater samples for compliance.
AP says the industry argues that it does not get credit from its detractors for installing new $2 million wastewater cleaning devices without any law requiring it. Thirty percent of the roughly 120 council member ships have the systems, according to the ICCL. They separate clean water from sludge, which is disposed of on land.
AP quotes Rich Pruitt, Director of environmental programs for Royal Caribbean as saying the water is ‘completely without color, without odour. Some executives in the cruise line industry have drank it publicly’. Royal Caribbean has pledged to install the systems on all of its 29 ships by 2008.
ICCL President Michael Crye pointed to a study by the Pew Oceans Commission that said 80 percent of ocean pollution came from land-based sources, and cruise ships were responsible for less than one percent, said the AP article.