SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Instead of a tale of two cities, we have two different tales of floating cities
By Sen. Kim Elton


June 28, 2008

Cruise ship compliance with Alaska's environmental laws likely is okay if the question is "can they do lunch?" Ask more relevant questions, though, and compliance apparently is more difficult to assess.

I make this observation after reading two reports. The first, a June 18 story in the Anchorage Daily News. The second, a June 23 status report from Alaska's contract manager of onboard environmental compliance marine engineers--commonly known as Alaska's ocean rangers.

The newspaper reported on an environmental tour for politicians aboard a Holland America behemoth that "wraps up in the Pinnacle Grill, where the server pours wine and delivers the sumptuous entrees" of tiger prawns, beef tenderloin and chocolate brownie decadence. Question answered: cruise ships can do lunch.

The status report notes: "both Holland America and Princess Cruises have issued guidelines to the onboard crew on how to restrict and control the observations of the rangers." When the onboard crews follow these guidelines strictly, the rangers "do not have satisfactory access to do their jobs properly." Question unanswered: are cruise ships fully complying with our laws?

The newspaper story says: cruise industry advocates are staging the ship tours for state legislators, local government officials and members of civic organizations. The message, says the newspaper, is that "cruise ships are clean, discharging far less dirty water and toxic wastes into the sea than they once did." (That, by the way, is the same message my staff and I heard on a ship tour last year.)

The ocean ranger manager in his report says starkly: "I believe Alaskans will be offended when they learn that some cruise ships feel they have the right to restrict what and when the ranger is allowed to observe."

One conclusion can be that the cruise ship tour experience for politicians may be somewhat more congenial than the ocean ranger experience.

The cruise ships say they plan 14 tours for elected officials and community leaders in several different Alaska ports this year and I suspect each of the 14 will be similar to the tour the newspaper reporter took with elected officials. That tour began, says the reporter, in the ship's spacious movie theater where the tall Dutch captain and the rest of the ship's officers greet the guests. The walking tour "begins through the ugly parts of what is otherwise a resplendent vessel" including the laundry, garbage room, and the sewage treatment plant.

But access for Alaska's ocean rangers in "ugly parts of the ship" is sometimes restrained, according to the status report. The ocean ranger manager notes unsatisfactory access has some or all of these problems:
the ranger is not allowed to accompany the environmental officer (EO) on daily rounds; escorted access with the EO is allowed but with a time restriction of two hours per day which is further reduced if the EO is busy; and the ranger is not allowed to ask questions of the engineers responsible for the equipment (the ranger manager notes that EOs are not necessarily marine engineers like the rangers and EOs cannot always provide adequate answers to a ranger's questions).

The June status report did note 18 of the 28 ships surveyed provided the access rangers needed to do their compliance checks including access to the control rooms at any time to check the logs as well as escorted access to engineers responsible for the oil/water separator, the wastewater treatment system, and the incinerator. That's the good news. The bad news is that rangers did have problems on more than one out of three of the ships covered in the status report.

I guess it is not surprising that the state elected official tours are a more congenial experience than ocean rangers face on their shipboard walkabouts. After all, the cruise ship industry wants smooth sailing in its attempts to relax environmental compliance laws passed overwhelmingly by voter initiative a couple years back.

But we need to make sure the elected official tours are not simply shakedown cruises for a bad idea. And we won't really know if less restrictive laws are a bad idea if ocean ranger access continues to be constrained by some in the international cruise ship industry.

About: Sen. Kim Elton is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing Juneau.

Received June 27, 2008 - Published June 28, 2008



Alaska cruise ships show off wastewater operations By WESLEY LOY (ADN) - The tour begins in places cruise-ship passengers never see: the sewage treatment room at the bottom of the hull. - More...


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