Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Earth Island News

Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Say “bon voyage” to the buffet line
The recent boom in passenger and crew numbers coupled with the tight quarters and sanitation problems on the new mega-ships is incubating communicable diseases at nearly epidemic levels. In the past year, seven major cruise lines have suffered significant on-board infestations of Norwalk-type viruses (intense stomach flu symptoms), and/or cases of Salmonella, Rubella, Shigella, Giardia, and E. coli.

The industry’s presence is growing at an infectious rate as well. The number of cruise passengers visiting Alaska is predicted to increase from 1.2 million in 2002 to 2 million by the year 2010. The international fleet accounted for 20 dockings in the Hawai’ian Islands in 1998. In 2003, there will be 30 dockings in Honolulu alone and it is anticipated the industry will continue to grow in Hawai’i by eight percent annually without the consent of local communities or the pre-visit planning required by Hawai’ian law. At the request of concerned citizens from across the Islands, the Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (C-SAW) traveled to Hawai’i in December to meet with legislators, editorial boards, and affected communities. Public presentations and meetings were held on four islands, where information and strategies were discussed regarding the ongoing cruise invasion.

You can just say no
Holland America Lines (HAL) scheduled half a dozen visits to the island of Moloka’i beginning in December 2002, without bothering to talk to many residents. HAL’s goal was to drop 1,200 people onto Hawai’i's least-traveled island via the town of Kaunakakai, a small community with one public bathroom.

Led by activists and community leaders such as Walter Ritte, Colette Machado, Julie Lopez, and Rich Zubaty, the people of Moloka’i raised many serious questions:

What impact will ship anchors have on the coral reef?

What effect might the dumping of millions of gallons of inadequately treated sewage, oily bilgewater, and other potentially toxic wastes have on the reef’s fisheries and the existing tourism economy?

Where will the air pollution go that pours out of the ships’ smokestacks?

Will the ships damage Moloka’i's “fishponds” (1000-year-old aquaculture pens), which locals are rebuilding to increase self-sufficiency and reinvigorate the practice of the island’s traditional culture?

How will the island’s small clinic and few physicians deal with a potential epidemic of viral-stricken passengers, crew, and locals, given the infectious diseases currently plaguing the industry?

Will cruise visits really help the local economy or simply create a demand for t-shirts and trinkets?

Many residents of Moloka’i were so offended by the industry’s decision to come without an invitation they decided to send an RSVP anyway. With network TV crews filming from the beach, a fleet of Native canoes, modern outriggers, and skiffs took to the water to meet the first approaching ship in late December 2002. Over 100 signs telling the cruise ship to go away were posted along roadways and in shop windows all over town. More than 200 people waited at the dock to “greet” the ship - wearing t-shirts that said in big, red block letters: “No Cruise Ships on Moloka’i in 2002.” The Holland America ship turned away five miles from shore due to “high winds.”

As the date of the second scheduled docking approached in January 2003, the people of Moloka’i prepared to battle for their island again. After the HAL ship lost time rescuing a few stranded boaters off the coast of California, the company announced five days in advance of their arrival they would make every docking in Hawai’i—except Moloka’i.

Mid-April was the next scheduled docking. Would Holland America return and risk more bad press? Would they have too much hubris to admit defeat and try to dock again? The answer came the month before the scheduled arrival. Carnival Cruises, the parent company of Holland America Lines, announced the cancellation of all dockings for the next two years. Moloka’i became the first major community to successfully stop the invasion of a foreign cruise line.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of a citizen’s group from the island of Moloka’i and with the help of expert testimony from C-SAW, continues to seek an injunction to block all future visits by the industry to Moloka’i until the planning process mandated by Hawai’i state law is undertaken and completed.

Dilution is not the solution
Recent studies drafted in part by the industry claim the levels of fecal bacteria and other pollutants discharged are safe because receiving waters sufficiently dilute the millions of gallons of polluted wastewater. Of course, all bets are off if you’re kayaking in waters recently used by a cruise ship as a “mixing zone,” or if the fish you are frying happened to be near the ship when the discharge valves were opened. (See EIJ Spring 2003 for more on mixing zones.) Sewage isn’t the only problem coming from the poop deck. Independent testing in Alaska in 2000 and 2001 demonstrated that cruise ship discharges also contain elevated levels of hydrocarbons, plastics, and metals in excess of Alaska’s water quality standards.

We can plug the leaks
1. Withdraw the industry’s 30-year exemption from requiring discharge permits.

2. Enforce compliance with all Water Quality standards without the application of mixing zones.

3. Place an independent observer on every ship.

4. Install transponders on all wastestreams to monitor discharge events, locations, and volumes in real-time.

5. Establish and require use of “best available technologies.”

6. Enforce meaningful penalties and criminal liability for non-compliance.

C-SAW, with the help of Bluewater Network, is spearheading the passage of an initiative in Alaska to address many of these issues. The cruise industry’s responsibilities must no longer end at the annual shareholder meeting. Every day more people are becoming aware of the industry’s environmental, social, public health, and economic problems. Many cruise corporations are heavily in debt from aggressive shipbuilding and marketing programs in the 1990s—coupled with the weakening domestic and world economy, their own financial folly may bring the industry crashing onto the rocks. In the meantime, our public waters and marine resources must be protected.

—Gershon Cohen, Ph.D. is director of Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Take Action: Contact C-SAW at (907) 766-3005 or email for more info. Check out and for comprehensive libraries of cruise news and facts.

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