Progress against Pollution

| Saturday, 05 Mar. 2005

Eco-friendly technology for cruise ships in Alaska.

Environmentally conscious people are becoming more and more concerned about cruise ships sailing along their coastlines, after several well-publicized incidents of smoke emissions and waste dumping in the 1990s raised questions about the impact of cruising. The lines in question were hit with stiff fines, some in the millions of dollars. But the public image problems remained.

Faced with new rules and increased scrutiny, the cruise industry has been taking a hard look at itself, and has come up with a number of new procedures and technologies designed to put the environmentalists' fears to rest.

This has not happened without public pressure, however. As a result of the incidents in the 1990s, many regulatory and monitoring bodies have set stricter environmental rules affecting not just cruise liners but all classes of shipping. The federal government has strengthened its own regulations, and Alaska has passed state laws that empower it to regulate and monitor visiting cruise ships--a move that other coastal states are studying.

In addition to local and regional laws, regulations are also set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships at Sea (MARPOL). The U.S. Coast Guard is actively promoting and developing its own standards, and monitoring ships for compliance with regulations.

By 2001, there were environmental directives from so many different bodies that the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) set standards for its member companies that meet or exceed all existing legislative requirements, and are in effect worldwide. ICCL members include the world's 16 largest cruise lines. Last June, the organization adopted a set of mandatory environmental standards covering all types of waste discharge. (For a detailed list, see the ICCL web site at www.iccl.org.)

Passengers often see on-board programs that ask for their cooperation in anti-litter and recycling efforts. But the cruise lines' new environmental policies and programs go well beyond these practices, encompassing all aspects of ship operations. Behind the scenes, cruise line engineers on board and on land are developing new technology to make ships safe and to reduce the chance of harming the environment.

The U.S. Coast Guard is recognizing the success of cruise lines in making ships safe. In its new project "Quality Shipping for the 21st Century," or Qualship 21, the Coast Guard recognizes foreign-flagged vessels that demonstrate a commitment to safety and quality, and that comply with environmental and health regulations. The current list of elite vessels includes Holland America Line's Amsterdam, Maasdam, Noordam, Rotterdam and Zaandam; Princess Cruises' Crown, Dawn, Grand, Ocean, Pacific, Regal, Royal, Sun and Sea Princesses; Cunard Line's Caronia and QE2; Seabourn Cruise Line's Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Pride; P&O Cruises' Arcadia and Oriana.

In Alaska, where preservation of the environment is of utmost importance to shore-side communities, a preliminary report on the 2001 cruise season was encouraging: The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found significant reductions in smoke emissions. While wastewater testing was still underway, the report said that a number of new technologies being tested on ships this season will help to bring wastewater quality into compliance with the latest ICCL and Alaska state standards.

Cruise lines are developing new methods for propulsion, power and the processing of wastewater. Here's an overview of environmental and technology initiatives at some major cruise lines.

Princess Cruises

In 1993, Princess became the first cruise line to appoint an environmental expert to a full-time senior management position. The environmental health program at Princess is designed to actively monitor sea- and land-based environmental policies and practices. Comprehensive education and training programs for all crew members, to prevent inadvertent violations of environmental policies, are a major part of the program, named "Planet Princess".

Princess is building all new ships to high environmental standards, and has retrofitted existing ships with state-of-the-art waste management and garbage disposal technology including incinerators, compactors, shredders and food processors. Princess also has a "zero dumping" policy, whereby all non-biodegradable garbage is incinerated on board or taken ashore.

Princess Cruises also worked with the Alaska Light and Power Company to develop the world's first shore power facility in Juneau, in an effort to reduce the amount of smoke from ship funnels during day-long port calls. Princess' ships have been specially outfitted to connect to the new shore power distribution system, enabling them to shut down their engines and cut smoke emissions while in port.

Princess invested $4.5 million in the shore power facility, located at the Franklin Street dock. Special engineering considerations in this unique project included accommodating the 20-foot rise and fall of the tide. As a result of the new facility, smoke emissions in Juneau were significantly reduced in 2001. Other lines visiting Juneau have expressed an interest in using the shore power facility when Princess is not in town.

Holland America Line

HAL, which started up in 1873, earned a reputation as "the spotless fleet" in the early days of transatlantic crossings. Over the years, HAL expanded its program to include protection of the environment. The line implemented MARPOL standards for garbage processing and disposal three years before they became law.

As a pioneer and major player in Alaska cruising, HAL's ships take special care when visiting that pristine region. In 2001, all HAL ships operating in Alaska carried a second engineer to oversee all environmental matters, including bilge waste management, emissions, garbage handling, and wastewater processing.

Holland America Line is employing a new technology that purifies "gray" and "black" wastewater to near-drinking water quality. (Gray water comes from sinks, showers, dishwashers and food pulpers, while black water comes from toilets.)

Developed by ZENON Environmental Inc. of Oakville, Ontario, the ships' treatment plants process wastewater through a two-step bio-chamber stocked with bacteria that break down and consume other harmful bacteria and chemicals.

Wastewater then passes through a filtration system that uses a slight vacuum to suck it through thousands of tiny .03-micron tubes that allow only water molecules to pass. Suspended solids are left behind in the filtration chamber. The filtered water finally passes through ultraviolet light as a final polishing stage before discharge. The discharge water is pure enough to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards except for a slight saline content.

Holland America Line's Statendam and Zaandam employed the new treatment plants in 2001. HAL's other Alaska-bound vessels will have the system installed at a cost of $2.5 million before May 2002.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Corporation in partnership with Finnish engine manufacturer Wartsila has created a new "smokeless" enviro-engine. The new technology reduces visible emissions and enhances fuel efficiency.

Technically, the enviro-engine is a state-of-the-art, four-stroke common-rail injection engine. Benefits include lower fuel consumption, lower nitrogen oxide and the ability to use different nitrogen oxide ratings. It also produces no visible smoke at any load, lets the crew start the engine without visible smoke, permits load cycling without smoke and has a lower maintenance cost.

The enviro-engine is being tested and perfected on Carnival Spirit. Carnival's Spirit class ships are also specially designed to reduce the possibility of pollution. They feature isolated bilge water spaces, reducing the possibility of tainting water with oil. Fuel tanks have a double hull-like protection, reducing the possibility of rupture if the ship runs aground. New food waste processing and wastewater treatment systems have also been installed. And care is taken in the selection of refrigerants and paints used on board to be sure they are environmentally friendly. All six engines meet MARPOL's rules for nitrogen oxide emissions that will become a requirement in the future.

Carnival's fleetwide program of waste-management calls for solid waste to be processed and incinerated on board or sent to a shoreside facility for treatment, recycling or disposal.

Royal Caribbean International/Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity's Infinity, its newest ship Summit, and RCI's Radiance of the Seas all have gas turbine engines. Turbine technology minimizes a ship's environmental impact by drastically reducing air emissions, sludge and oil waste. The ships' new GE LM 2500-Plus gas turbine engines were developed by GE Marine of Evendale, Ohio.

Gas turbines work in combination with steam turbines to power the ship's propulsion and to provide on-board heat and power. Instead of diesel fuel, gas turbine engines use cleaner-burning Marine Gas Oil. Emissions are significantly reduced -- nitrogen oxide by 80 percent and sulfur oxide by 98 percent. The smoother-running turbines also create less noise and vibration for passenger comfort.

Given the public's newfound and intense concerns about the cleanliness of air and water, the future will surely bring even more new technology that cruise lines can employ to help them preserve the world's oceans and the environment of the ports that cruise ships visit.

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