Search This Blog

Friday, January 9, 2015

Are cruise ships really polluters?

My blog post about the dire ratings of cruise ships, as reported by Friends of the Earth, has attracted a great deal of interest on FaceBook. People have pointed out that cruise ship passengers don't stop flushing toilets after they get home, and, what's more, they go back to driving their cars.  Others have pointed out that whales produce a lot more poop than people do, though whale poop might be a lot better for the planet.  Suddenly, swimming doesn't seem all that attractive.

Rick Spilman of Old Salt Blog has produced a great deal of evidence that FoE have their facts wrong, in that many cruise ships have a better sewage treatment system on board than most of the ports can boast -- that when it rains in many civilized places, raw sewage floats down the streams and drains to the sea. He quoted a blog post he had made about it, and here, with his kind permission, it is extracted.  (This is the link the entire post.)

Here is yet another case of the media taking a wildly inaccurate sets of claims about ships at face value.  The news media has been touting a new study by the environmental group Friends of the Earth. The title of the FOE press release of December 4th makes their claim quite clear — Cruise ships flushed more than a billion gallons of sewage into oceans again this year.  And who is FOE? Their website claims that “Friends of the Earth is a bold and fearless voice for justice and the planet.”  They may be “bold and fearless,” but do they have the first clue about ships?  Or are their claims just so much, err… sewage?
Could the cruise lines really be dumping all that sewage?
The FOE press release claims that “cruise ships flushed more than a billion gallons of sewage into oceans again this year” Is that possible?  The answer is no.  The billion gallons referenced is FOE’s estimate of the total sewage generated on all cruise ships in one year. To claim that all the raw sewage produced was then dumped into the ocean is a wild exaggeration at best. Calling it a boldfaced lie might be a more accurate characterization...
Ultimately, FOE gives too much away when it expresses it preference in shipboard sanitation. In their ‘Cruise Ship Report Card’ they write: “The last and most environmentally protective method is for cruise ships to hold treated sewage onboard and not dump near our sensitive coasts and marine protected areas.
So if FOE prefers that cruise ship retain sewage in holding tanks, where will the sewage ultimately go?  It will have to be pumped ashore to be processed in shorebased treatment plants. And this is where FOE misses the point.
When cruise ships are tied up to a pier in New York or Miami and it starts to rain, there is a very good chance that raw untreated sewage will start flowing int the waters of either harbor.  But it won’t be coming from the cruise ships.  The sewage will be flowing directly from the city sewers.  The title of a Newsweek report from last summer, summarizes it perfectly — If It’s Raining, NYC’s Raw Sewage Is Probably Pouring Into the Waterways.  New York, like many cities, has a combined sewage and rain water system. In heavy rains, the system overflows and carries sewage into the harbor.
Miami, a major cruise ship port, has similar problems. Just this April, Miami-Dade County and state and federal regulators entered into a consent decree to begin a multi-year $1.6 billion repair to the very leaky sewage system.
It is not just New York and Miami with sewer problems. According to the EPA there are over 770 cities in the United States where sewage flows untreated into the waterways when it rains or snows heavily.  And what is the effect of these sewage overflows? Last summer over 1 in 10 US beaches was unsafe for swimming due to seawage contamination.  As reported by USA Today: The EPA estimated that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage in swimming water each year.
As I said, it doesn't really encourage one to dive into the water.  Read the rest for an extremely well-argued post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a professional sailboat captain in Key West, Florida I have witnessed the decimation to our reefs and backcountry from these floating behemoths.