California Cruise Ships: An Environmental Report Card

The ECOreport uses  Marica Keever’s 2013 Cruise Report Card to evaluate California Cruise Ships: an Environmental Report Card

By Roy L Hales


According to a report released three days ago, Cruise ships dumped more than 1 billion gallons of sewage in the ocean last year, much of it raw or poorly treated. More than 40% of the 162 ships in the 2013 Cruise Report Card“still rely on 30-year-old waste treatment technology, leaving treated sewage with levels of fecal matter, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants harmful to aquatic life and people.”

“It’s time for cruise ships to stop using our oceans as a toilet!” said Marcie Keever, author of the Friends of the Earth report.

Cruise Lines International Association told Discovery News that the FoE report “very misleading and distorted” and argued that “the cruise industry advocates best-in-class environmental stewardship practices that seek to fully protect the communities, ports and waters wherever we operate. CLIA member lines continue to invest extensively to implement a wide range of innovative environmental solutions that reduce air pollution and emissions, as well as treat sewage prior to discharge. Additionally, our industry in many areas employs practices and procedures that are substantially more protective of the environment than are required by regulation.”

Cruise Ships that Visited Los Angeles in Sept/Oct, Environmental Statistics from FOE
Cruise Ships that Visited Los Angeles in Sept/Oct, Environmental Statistics from FOE

Industry protests appear to be justified in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Keever gave all but one of the ships that arrived this fall an “A” for their sewage treatment. She gave the ships that visited Southern Californian ports higher marks than those for  the rest of the cruise ship industry. Though the Princess line received a B-  for sewage treatment, all of its ships on this page were given A’s in this category. On their website, the line states, “Even though disposal of many types of solid waste into the ocean is permitted by law, Princess has a zero solid waste discharge policy prohibiting the disposal of unprocessed, non-biodegradable solid waste into the ocean. All solid waste is either incinerated on board ship, or landed ashore.” The “Coral Princess” received A’s in all three of Keever’s categories – how it treats sewage, its air quality and water quality compliance – as well as an overall grade of “A.” Every Princess on this page received a final grade of  “A” – but these are only 6 of the 17 Princess cruise ships. Keever gave the line a “B.” Keever’s #1  choice is the Disney Cruise Line, which she describes  “as the most environmentally responsible line, earning an A for sewage treatment and an overall grade of A, the only line to score that highly and the first A ever issued to a cruise line…. all four Disney ships have advanced sewage treatment systems and three are equipped to plug in to shore-based power.” Only one of these ships, “Disney Wonder,” has visited San Francisco and Los Angeles this fall. It will not reach San Diego until May 17, 2014. It is another of the three cruise ships on this page that received an “A” in every category. “Norwegian Star” is another. Keever wrote that, “All of NCL’s 12 cruise ships have installed advanced sewage treatment systems, resulting in a grade of A for the company’s 100 percent sewage treatment score.” But only three Norwegian cruise ships – and only one of those listed on this page (the “Norwegian Star”) – are plugin capable.

Cruise Ships that Visited San Diego
Cruise Ships that Visited San Diego

Keever wrote that “Cruise ships are also responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the dirty fuel they burn,” she wrote. “Even at the dock, cruise ships often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew. According to the EPA, each day an average cruise ship is at sea it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars. Starting in 2015, cleaner fuel standards in the U.S. and Canada will reduce the amount of sulfur emitted by each ship about 97 percent and the amount of soot by 85 percent, in addition to the interim cleaner fuel standards already in place in North America.” She gave the the Norwegian line a “B.” The Holland America line  lost marks because only 80% of its 15 vessels have advanced sewage treatment systems. (The only cruise ship in my charts that received an “F” in this category, the “Amsterdam,” belongs to this line.) Yet nine of Holland America’s “ships traveled to Alaska and Alaskan authorities cited four ships with 19 violations of state water pollution standards, giving Holland a 95 percent for water quality compliance in Alaska, or an A.” This is better than both the Norwegian (94%) and Princess (91%) lines, but not enough for Keever to give this line more than a “B” for its final grade. Ships with a N/A for water discharged sewage outside of Alaskan waters, thereby avoiding Alaska’s strong water quality standards. All 3 of  Celebrity’s ships operating along that route did this, which helped lower this line’s final grade to a C+. Another factor that brought down Celebrity’s marks is the fact none of  their 11 ships are plug-in capable. Rich Pruitt, associate vice president of safety and environmental stewardship for the company that owns Celebrity lines, said this was not fair. The report should have indicated that shore power is only available in limited ports and failed to give Celebrity credit for investments in energy efficiency and other technology to reduce emissions. Every one of Celebrity’s ships has achieved a 100% rating for sewage treatment. “There’s all these other factors that you have to include before you put a grade on somebody,” Pruitt said.

Cruise Ships that visited San Franciso
Cruise Ships that visited San Franciso

Though Celebrity is not happy with a C+, it is the 5th highest scoring cruise line  out of the 16 evaluated in the 2013 Cruise Report Card.  Regent Seven Seas Cruises was given a “D+,” which makes it #10. (Keever’s lowest mark is an “F,” which she gave to four companies.) The highest scoring of Regent’s 3 vessels is also the only one to sail in North American waters (chart below). The line’s overall scores were 67% for sewage treatment, 79% for water compliance in Alaska and “F” for Air pollution reduction. (None of their ships are plug-in capable.) Keever’s marks may seem tough, but she  insists the regulations are not stringent enough. “Most travelers don’t realize that taking a cruise is more harmful to the environment and human health than many other forms of travel,” she writes. “The 2013 Cruise Ship Report Card lets vacationers decide which cruise to take based on a cruise ship or cruise line’s environmental and human health impacts.”

(Photo at top of page: The Sapphire Princess – Yankeesman312, courtesy Wikipedia)

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