Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Tougher sewage rules for cruise ships

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Vancouver Sun

The federal government, which has declared itself “extremely sensitive” to the pollution risks posed by the fast-growing cruise ship industry, will bring into force next month regulations that could lead to jail sentences and fines of up to $1 million for violators that illegally dump raw sewage close to land.

It is coincidence, surely, that this front page story appears only one week after the Georgia Straight did a feature on dumping here?

Vancouver has wooed the Mercury away from Seattle this year, becoming the 1,900-passenger ship’s home port for the 2007 Alaska cruise season. On May 4, the Mercury will make its first visit of the year to Vancouver, passing under the Lions Gate Bridge, slipping through Burrard Inlet, and tying up at the pier under Canada Place’s fake sails.

The Celebrity Cruises, Inc. ship will return more than 20 times this season, and on November 2 it will be the last cruise ship to leave the port. Vancouver cruise boosters–including the Vancouver Sun, which called it a “major victory”–have greeted the Mercury moving in with unabashed enthusiasm. An estimated 65,000 extra passengers will visit the city because of the Mercury. The cruise sector generates more than 13,000 jobs annually, the Vancouver Port Authority estimates, and each ship brings $2 million to the region every time it ties up at dock.

What they fail to mention is that the Mercury got into a spot of trouble last year in Washington state for spewing sewage into Juan de Fuca Strait, between Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and southern Vancouver Island. During the investigation, the ship’s owners admitted fouling Canadian waters three times. The infractions cost Celebrity Cruises $100,000 in fines in Washington. In Canada, it paid nothing.

“The excuse was, ‘We’ll pay the fine in Washington but we won’t pay the fine in Canada because Canada doesn’t care,'” said Ross Klein, a social-work professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a leading critic of the cruise industry. “Even if you’re brain-dead, it’s obvious if you’ve got to follow regulations in California, Washington, and Alaska, and you don’t in Canada, what are you going to do in Canada? That in itself speaks volumes.”

Of course, the feds could not possibly move that fast, but the good news is that they are moving at all. Of course it will be a very long time before the sewage produced by the 2 million people in this region gets treated properly. Right now most of it is just screened for solids then dumped into the Strait (off Iona Beach) or the Fraser (Annacis, Lulu Island – just upstream of Gilbert Beach and Garry Point, where swimming has to be banned due to high fecal coliform counts year round).

Locals here like to compare our water to London’s, which they say has “been through five people before you drink it” which displays woeful ignorance about the hydrological cycle in general and sewage treatment in particular. London’s treatment plants produce water that is of drinking quality purity – plus fluoride that has put an end to dental caries. And salmon have returned to the Thames.
The new rules mean

Discharges within three to 12 miles must be “broken down, diluted and disinfected prior to discharge,” according to Transport Canada.

It would be nice if those discharges much closer to our beaches of our own effluent could be treated to a similar standard.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2007 at 11:23 am

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