By Jim MacDougall
It’s time to put an end to needless polluting.
I was sitting on my deck, watching a couple of cruise ships heading south (east actually), toward Vancouver or Seattle. No doubt returning from Alaska. What a sight!
I reside in a small town, located at the west end of Johnstone Strait. The air is clean, and the ocean is relatively pristine.
I couldn’t help but grind my teeth, thinking about the incredible amount of pollution these “floating cities” leave (literally) in their wake.
We constantly hear about the dangers of oil, pipelines and tankers; increasing amounts of plastic in our food chain; mounting piles of garbage all over the globe; acid rain; and ever increasing particulate and CO2 in the air we breathe.
Most of us are very concerned about the potential impacts of these pollutants. Cities and entire countries are declaring “Climate Emergencies.” Globally we have (only) just begun to deal with some of these issues. Many industries are being monitored in an effort to reduce, or even stop the pollution. Closely monitoring industry and individuals that disregard our environment is beginning to take shape. But.we have to do more! Times they are a-changin’!
It seems that only a few care about the impact these vacation ships have on our oceans and air. I’ve read staggering statistics about the particulates these ships pump into the atmosphere, and the pollutants they discharge into our oceans. The waste stream from each ship is astronomical. The amount of waste is getting larger and larger. The ships are getting bigger and bigger, and trips are becoming more frequent. The west coast of Canada is taking the brunt of it all.
One ship - one day – is the equivalent of 1 million vehicles running for that day! There is an average of between 200 and 300 cruise ships visiting B.C. destinations each year. The number of cruise ships crossing the Gulf of Alaska in 2016 was 477; in 2017 it was 494; in 2018 it was 500. I’m assuming most, if not all of these ships steamed up the “Inside Passage” through Canadian waters. Simple math tells us that’s like having 500 million cars running for seven days. Five hundred, seven-day cruises to Alaska equals the equivalent of over 3 billion cars running! That’s like having over 8 million land vehicles running all day, every day of the entire year! There are only 3.6 million vehicles registered in B.C. Holy cow!
But here’s the real kicker. The fuel these ships use, even the “low sulphur stuff,” is worse than road diesel. In many cases, these ships use “heavy oil.” That’s the crap that’s too heavy and dirty for anything else (well, maybe making asphalt roads). It’s what is left over when the refineries make gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel. It’s also known as bunker fuel. It’s cheap. As of October 4, 2019, in Los Angeles, the price per litre of Bunker C was 43.9 cents. This fuel has 3,500 times the sulphur than the ‘not so dirty’ fuel. It’s poison!
I’ve often wondered, when do these ships burn the really bad stuff? As soon as they are out of populated areas? I’ve seen ships approaching Queen Charlotte Strait spewing yellow smoke, but as they cruise by my home, where there are people living (and watching), the smoke is more blue-white.
One wonders if there is an accounting of all the fuel used and when it’s used. I read of an “undercover” investigation that was conducted to test the air quality on-board a cruise ship. It was documented that the air on deck of the ship was often dirtier than one would encounter in a large polluted city. It is also well documented that respiratory illnesses from breathing internal combustion pollution in port cities is far greater than non-port cities. There are higher rates of death. In the UK, it has been estimated that 3,000 Britons die prematurely each year due to the emissions from the shipping and cruise industry.
The cruise ship industry has been encouraged to use less polluting fuel, but instead have chosen to use scrubbers. A six-day cruise produces two to five tons of sludge from the scrubbing process. That’s a lot of oily, acidic, crude! Guess what they do with that stuff? They “deep six” it! And can we really trust these guys to actually use the scrubbers? Carnival (Princess) Cruise Lines have been charged many times for discharge of pollution and falsifying records. And do they actually treat this crud before dumping it? I bet they don’t dump it in Washington, or Alaska. Oh, I wonder where they dump it.
Also part of the waste stream from these ships is the bilge water, black water (poop) and grey water. I roughly figured that each person on a medium to large cruise ship, with 2000 passengers and 1000 crew, would probably flush a toilet twice a day each. That’s around 6,000 gallons of human waste per day, or 36,000 gallons in a six-day cruise. I guesstimated the amount of grey water and bilge water would be a fair bit more.
You know what? I was way out! One study I read estimates 210,000 gallons of sewage (black water) is produced per week. And get this. Five (5) times that amount of grey water is generated in a week! That’s over 1 MILLION gallons of grey water in a week! The WWF estimated the cruise industry dumped 1.37 billion (BILLION!) litres of grey water off BC’s coast. Apparently it was treated. But one really wants to know how toxic that treated grey water still is? Who knows what’s in this “grey water.” I’m sure it’s not just dish soap.
Then we have the bilge water. Every vessel has bilge water. I wonder what happens to that stuff, laden with oil and heavy metals. Then there is the ballast water. Pumped in and out from around the globe, spreading invasive waterborne species as they go.
Apparently all this fluid is treated before discharge. Sort of like Carnival Cruise Lines and their “magic pipes”. Do all cruise ships come with “magic pipes?” Carnival (Princess) Cruise Lines has been fined several times for violations; dumping all manner of pollutants overboard and falsifying records. They even got caught while on probationary conditions. Carnival says they are “Committed to environmental excellence and protecting the environment.”
I’d love to know how much black, grey and bilge water actually gets pumped out when at dock, to be disposed of correctly. I’d also like to know how much “scrubber” residue is produced and then off-loaded. Considering most of the route to Alaska is through the “Inside Passage” in Canadian waters, one would expect it would be a substantial amount, and that every last drop would be accounted for.
I wonder if there have ever been calculations completed and extrapolations applied to see just how much pollution these ships spew, as they travel through Canadian waters and poison the environment.
It’s interesting to me that all of these ships are foreign registered. None of the companies that own them are Canadian, other than a few smaller ships.
I know we have laws and environmental regulations here in Canada. I know our coast guard and other regulatory bodies can enforce these regulations. But do we really know what’s going on? Has Canada ever stopped a ship and actually inspected it? Probably not, because it would take a month and an army of engineers to do a thorough inspection. Have we ever followed one of these ships and tested the air and wake as they steam through Canadian waters?
I think you get my point here. I really don’t think the general population truly appreciates the level of toxicity these “vacation boats” represent. How long will we continue to allow this to continue? This cruise ship industry is growing in leaps and bounds. The ships are getting monstrous in size. I really do think the cruise lines take advantage of the general ignorance of our citizens, and lax Canadian laws and enforcement. I don’t really believe they care one lick about how much environmental damage they do. Especially in Canada! It’s all about corporate profits. I also believe that most people who cruise on these ships have no idea in regards to the environmental damage these ships are causing. All they see is the beautiful pristine coastline passing by at 20 nautical miles an hour.
Maybe it’s time to say to the cruise line industry, “You want to cruise through Canadian waters? Yes. Then, no dumping - period! No using dirty fuel - period! You must account for all fuel burned - period! You must account for all waste - period! And you must PROVE it! Or cruise somewhere else. Period!”
Sure this would be expensive for them. If a person really wants to cruise, then they will pay. If not? Too bad. At least we can retain a clean environment on OUR coast.
References: Wikipedia; Cruise Line International Association, Alaska; Stats Canada; Ship & Bunker October 4, 2019; Transport and Enviroment.org; The Independent March 10, 2019; Data from the International Council on Clean Transport; NY Times June 4, 2019; Travel weekly August 27, 2018; countless websites and articles.