Millions of people take part in cruise vacations every single year. However, most travelers do not realize that cruises are more harmful to the environment (and to human health) than many other travel forms.
Cruise ships pollute air during transit and even when docked, contributing significantly to carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA estimates that an average cruise liner at sea emits more soot each day than 1 million cars.
Sewage and other waste discharge has to go somewhere as well. At sea, waste is sometimes dumped, untreated, into the ocean, which can contaminate seafood, harm marine life, and contaminate coastal waters. Generally, regulations restrict ships from dumping within 3 nautical miles from shore. The EPA estimates that an average cruise ship generates upwards of 150,000 gallons of sewage per week. Cruise lines typically deal with the massive amounts of waste in one of three ways:
- Usually cruise ships use Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs) to treat sewage before it is released, however this technology is outdated and allows fecal bacteria, heavy metals, and other excess waste into the water.
- Cruise ships can also use more advanced systems, Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS), however these also fail to remove all harmful substances before dumping.
- The final and most environmentally conscious way is to hold waste on-board until back at port, where it is removed and treated at designated facilities.
Recently, Princess Cruise Lines plead guilty and has been fined $40 million for illegally dumping waste off the coast of England. The cruise line attempted to cover up repeated instances by lying to the US Coast Guard.
The fine stems from an incident in 2013 where the cruise line dumped over 4,000 gallons of oily waste into the ocean. The waste was dumped via an illegally installed bypass system, called the “magic pipe,” which was covered up by falsified records.
In an inquiry by the Department of Justice and US Coast Guard, investigators found that multiple Princess ships have been bypassing environmental laws regarding waste discharge.
“Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive,” said Wilfredo A. Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.
Waste discharge violations likely occur primarily for financial reasons; by dumping waste at sea, cruise lines avoid costs associated with unloading waste at port.
Take a look at the Cruise Line Report Card by Friends of the Earth to determine a greener cruise, or look into alternatives to staying-at-sea: