A cruise ship arrives in Rockland Harbor in 2014. (Photo by Wendell Greer)
A cruise ship arrives in Rockland Harbor in 2014. (Photo by Wendell Greer)
Local residents grilled a representative from a cruise line industry trade association during a presentation on the environmental impacts of cruise ships on July 27. Speaking before an audience at Rockland City Hall, Brian Salerno, senior vice president of maritime policy with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said that there is a “misconception” that the cruise ship industry dodges regulations.

“We work with the international level, with the national level and at the port level, and this is done globally around the world to make sure that our companies are operating in a respectful way with the destinations, respecting the environment and keeping our passengers safe,” said Salerno. “There’s a legal requirement to do that, but it’s also good business. That’s what our customers expect.”

CLIA, described as the “cruise industry trade association,” came to the city as part of an ongoing discussion among city officials about whether to regulate the number of cruise ships coming into Rockland. A retired Coast Guard vice admiral, Salerno said he used to be in charge of regulating environmental standards on cruise ships, but took the job with CLIA last year. He said that all vessels coming into U.S. waters must follow federal safety, environmental and security regulations, but they are more stringent for cruise ships. For instance, he said, while all international ships must undergo an annual inspection, for cruise ships inspections are quarterly. Violators can face penalties including fines or even having ships detained in port.

Salerno said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforces the ships’ air emissions, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter. He said that the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships extends U.S. Clean Air Act emission standards 200 miles offshore, so international ships must switch to fuels that limit sulfur and nitrogen output when passing through that zone. Ships can also meet emission standards by installing scrubbers to limit the emissions that go through their stacks. Salerno added that cruise line companies have also begun to power some of their ships with liquefied natural gas, which is a cleaner-burning fuel than conventional fuels.

“As a business, we’ve come to the realization that it makes a lot of sense to exceed those standards wherever we can,” said Salerno. “We have a compendium of policies that all the members adhere to, which means that all of the CEOs of the companies have agreed to exceed standards.”

He said the companies are audited by third parties to make sure that they are complying with CLIA’s rules. Salerno said the federal Clean Water Act regulates the ships’ disposal of garbage, oil, noxious liquid substances and sewage. By law, ships can discharge untreated sewage at least three miles out to sea, but West Penobscot Bay is one of five places in the state where ships can’t discharge at all, even if it’s treated. According to Pam Parker of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Water Bureau, outside the no-discharge zone, large commercial passenger vessels of over 250 passengers must get a permit to discharge, which includes keeping logs and doing monitoring.

“No large commercial vessel has ever applied under the general permit we issued, as a result, it is a de facto no discharge area for LARGE commercial passenger vessels,” she wrote. Salerno said that CLIA’s discharge policies exceed discharge laws anyway.

“From a cruise ship perspective, we have no intention of discharging even treated sewage within three miles even where it’s otherwise allowed,” he said. “Our members have agreed that they will not discharge untreated sewage anywhere in the world. Everything is treated regardless of where they operate, even when international standards do not require it.”

He said that half of CLIA’s ships have advanced wastewater treatment systems (AWTS), which he said raises the discharge to drinking-water standards. Salerno said that CLIA cruise ships have also pledged not to discharge grey water — which includes water from sinks, showers and washing machines — any closer than four miles from land. If regulators do find evidence of an illegal discharge out at sea that the cruise ship employees attempt to conceal, he said that the FBI and Department of Justice can bring the perpetrators to court.

“We’ve got 4,000 reporters on our cruise ships,” he added. “All our passengers have smartphones and they’re up at all hours. It would be extremely difficult for anybody to even attempt to do anything illegally. That’s a major control mechanism.”

Residents Skeptical of CLIA’s Claims

However, a number of residents expressed skepticism that the cruise ship industry has changed its ways, after several major scandals over the years. Last year, CLIA member Princess Cruise Lines, which is owned by Carnival, was ordered to pay a record $40 million fine for illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste and falsifying official logs to conceal the discharges, according to the DOJ. An engineer aboard the Caribbean Princess reported that in 2013 the ship used a so-called “magic pipe” to illegally discharge the oily waste off the coast of England. All told, five Princess ships were found to have used the practice. Ruth Starr, manager of Rockland’s 250 Main Hotel and a member of the group Alliance for Responsible Tourism, noted that CLIA hadn’t suspended any members for violations.

“I just find that incredible given the vast amount of environmental violations committed by CLIA members,” said Starr. “How do you keep them accountable?”

Salerno acknowledged that CLIA members are not automatically expelled from the organization for committing violations, but they are told to take corrective action. “A lot of these requirements that are in place for CLIA have come as a result of some of these experiences,” he said.

But Dr. Ross Klein, a national authority on the cruise ship industry and professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, disputed some of Salerno’s claims.

“For clarity, the mandatory environmental regulations came into force in 2001 by CLIA in response to the fines being levied,” said Klein. “The question is why are these cruise lines continuing with their membership after violations continue? The mandatory regulations go back 17 years, but there have been huge violations since then, and I think that’s why there’s some sensitivity. And again, I’m not trying to detract from the improvements being made and the desire to do better, but I think one has to come clean in terms of all of the history.”

In a 2009 paper for the group Friends of the Earth, Klein noted that, in 2000, Alaska regulators found that 79 of the 80 samples from cruise ships with the older marine sanitation devices were out of compliance with water-quality standards, but fewer than half of Carnival’s cruise ships had installed advanced wastewater treatment systems (AWTS) by 2008. Klein wrote that although AWTS are vastly superior to the older systems, regulators in Alaska, which has similar water-quality regulations to Maine, found that 13 of 18 (72 percent) cruise ships permitted to discharge in Alaska waters had violated discharge limits in 2009.

Cruise ship industry consultant Amy Powers pointed out that cruise ship water-quality tests conducted by the Community Environmental Health Laboratory at MDI Biological Laboratory around Frenchman’s Bay near Bar Harbor have found no evidence of contamination. Klein countered that the tests examined the water around the cruise ships, not the effluent at the point of discharge, the way the Alaska regulators did.

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) questioned whether too many cruise ships could ruin the quality of life of the area even if they follow the rules. Salerno said that CLIA is trying to do a better job of working with destinations to minimize congestion and is working on doing more outreach with communities.

Pat O’Brien, owner of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils on Main Street, said he was optimistic that a balance could be reached.

“In terms of the impact of the cruise ship industry, we’re in a really good place because there’s a lot of ground that we can understand and manage the impact as we allow more than four in,” said O’Brien. “Maybe it’s six, maybe it’s eight, but it doesn’t even have to be 186 like there is in Bar Harbor.”