Environment groups urge tougher rules for cruise ships

Environmental organizations and First Nations are urging Canada to toughen up anti-pollution regulations before cruise ships return to B.C. waters once the pandemic is under control.

They say that if the resumption of cruise ships mimics 2019, vessels will leave in their wake more than 31 billion litres of “inadequately treated cruise ship pollution laden with fecal coliform, ammonia, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” which they say will harm the health of humans, aquatic life and coastal ­ecosystems.

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Stand.Earth, West Coast Environmental Law and Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, spoke at a news conference Wednesday on a new report, Regulating the West Coast Cruise Industry: Canada at the Low Water Mark.

They maintain Canadian environmental regulations for the sector lag far behind the stricter controls for waters off California, Washington state and Alaska.

Anna Barford, Canada shipping campaigner at Stand.earth, said Canada has the weakest regulations along the west coast and as a result, “we are the cruise-ship toilet bowl.”

The U.S., by contrast, has strict limits on discharge, no-discharge zones and ongoing monitoring, Barford said. “We are trusting of the industry and allow them to dump more contaminated waste than our neighbours.”

As a result, sensitive ecosystems, species already threatened and human health are at risk, said Barford, adding the most urgent issues are with the “three big waste streams”: sewage, grey water and “scrubber” waste water.

Scrubbers are installed on ships to take sulfur dioxides from the heavy-fuel-oil combustion exhaust that pours from cruise ship smokestacks. Wash water from the process — which represents the bulk of the waste from cruise ships — can carry carcinogens, heavy metals and other contaminants that threaten human health and aquatic ­ecosystems, Barford said.

She said cruise lines should be using cleaner fuels, Canada should create more no-discharge zones and it should require third-party on-board monitoring.

Cruise-ship visits have been barred by the federal government until at least the end of this month to slow the spread of COVID-19. Uncertainty about the season has resulted in a drop in ship bookings at Victoria’s Ogden Point.

Sayers said dumping of inadequately treated waste is disrespectful to a “bountiful ocean that the Nuu-chah-nulth have relied on since time immemorial.”

“This is where we get our healthy food that keeps us strong as people. Our elders have often referred to it as our bread basket,” she said.

“It’s something that just kills me, thinking that our resources are being subject to all of these pollutants.”

Donna Spalding, representative of the industry group Cruise Lines International Association for the northwest and Canada, said the organization will review the new study in detail. “We need to verify that and understand ourselves how they have come up with those numbers,” she said. “Some of the things that they are saying — it doesn’t line up.”

For example, she said, Canada does have regulations to prevent pollution from shipping.

Ships are open to inspection and oversight by Transport Canada inspectors, who have access to log books relating to any discharges and safety and security.

Inspections take place on a regular schedule as well as on an ad-hoc basis, she said.

Cruise lines must also report to the International Maritime Association regularly on their systems and how they are ­working, Spalding said.

An industry agreement prohibits cruise ships from using scrubbers while in berth, and that waste remains on board while the ship is at dock, she said.

There are no rules in ­Washington state against ­discharge from exhaust-gas cleaning systems (scrubbers), she said — its no-discharge zone only relates to sewage.

Further, not every ship has a system that requires it to discharge large volumes of water that are used in exhaust-gas cleaning systems, she said.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is aiming to install a $25-million shore-power system to support cruise ships docked at Ogden Point and is hoping for government funding.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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