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Lawsuit targets cruise waste

Environmentalists pushing the EPA to assess, regulate the pollution on ships.

By South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Published May 11, 2007


An environmental group filed a lawsuit Wednesday to try to force the federal government to crack down on pollution from cruise ships, which account for a major share of the traffic at the Port of Miami and Port Everglades.

Friends of the Earth, based in Washington, D.C., sued the Environmental Protection Agency in federal court in Washington for what it said was a failure to act on a 7-year-old petition from environmental groups to assess and regulate cruise ship pollution.

Unlike other large ships - such as freighters, which carry small crews - cruise ships carry thousands of people, and that generates a large amount of waste. A one-week voyage with 3, 000 people on board generates 210, 000 gallons of sewage, 1-million gallons of dirty water from activities such as laundry and dishwashing, and 37, 000 gallons of oily bilge, the group said, citing EPA statistics. Miami ranks first and Fort Lauderdale second for cruise ship traffic in the United States. Tampa is the sixth-largest U.S. cruise port.

Teri Shore, campaign director for Friends of the Earth, said current law allows cruise ships to dump sewage, whether treated or not, outside the 3-mile zone subject to U.S. law. In areas such as South Florida, which has coral reefs and a huge cruise industry, this can threaten ocean ecosystems by overwhelming them with nutrients, oil and other pollutants, she said.

"If you dump sewage, with high nutrient levels, that's bad for coral reefs, " she said. "They can cause algae blooms. If it reaches coastal waters, that's a threat to public health. It's a threat to the food chain, if there's commercial fishing or shellfish beds."

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said the agency is preparing a report on cruise ship pollution in response to the petition from environmental groups. After the report is complete, it will be released for public comment, he said.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 21 cruise lines, said in a statement that its members go beyond government regulations and use the latest technology to "reduce our environmental footprint and protect the oceans and the destinations where our ships sail."

The trade association, based in Fort Lauderdale, has joined with some environmental groups, such as Conservation International to improve wastewater management and chart sensitive marine areas in which to avoid discharges, the association said.

"The cruise industry shares the goal of protecting our oceans, and our very livelihood depends on it, " the statement said.