Canadian cruise ships ready for mandatory wastewater measures

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cruise ship
In Canada’s busiest cruise ship area — the Pacific region — nearly all ships implemented the new measures during the voluntary period, according to Transport Canada reporting records at the ports of Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Prince Rupert. Photo Credit: Andreas Prott, stock.adobe.com

The federal government has released mandatory environmental measures for cruise ships that address treatment and discharge practices for greywater and treated sewage.

The Ministry of Transport changes, effective immediately, follow a one-year period when the environmental measures were voluntary for the $4-billion Canadian cruise industry that the government aims to lead closer to sustainability.

The new measures prohibit the discharge of greywater and treated sewage within three nautical miles from shore, where geographically possible across Canada. Cruise ships must treat sewage to fecal coliform counts equal to or less than 250/100 ml within three nautical miles from shore.       

Greywater can consist of drainage from sinks, laundry machines, bathtubs and showers, dishwashers, cleaners, and cooking oils. Blackwater, or sewage, can contain fecal coliforms, ammonia, chlorine, and a variety of toxic pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and organochlorides.

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The measures also require cruise ships to strengthen the treatment of greywater together with sewage before it is discharged between three and 12 nautical miles from shore south of 60°N. This must be done using an approved treatment device in non-Arctic waters. The measure complements existing regulations for Arctic waters under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.

“Cruise ships are an important part of our economy and tourism sector, but they need to operate in a more sustainable manner to protect our waters and our environment,” announced Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, in a statement. “The measures introduced today are additional tools in our tool box to keep them accountable. We are committed to continuing to work with industry to implement these measures, keeping our coasts clean for Canadians to enjoy,” Alghabra added.

In Canada’s busiest cruise ship area — the Pacific region — nearly all ships implemented the new measures during the voluntary period, according to Transport Canada reporting records at the ports of Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Prince Rupert.

Cruise ships will be subject to fines for non-compliance with these new mandatory measures, up to a maximum fine of $250,000 under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. 

West Coast Environmental Law in Vancouver has raised concerns over potential loopholes in the new measures. The environmental lawyers group says a cruise ship is allowed to dump greywater and sewage within three miles of shore using a marine sanitation device if there are no onshore reception facilities available during the intended voyage.

“For example, in the Great Bear Sea, where Canada’s first marine protected area network is being implemented, there are many narrow passage ways and remote areas where the loopholes in this order may permit cruise ships to dump close to shore,” the law group wrote in a statement. “We also worry that because Canada does not require third party monitors on vessels to observe, it will be very difficult to enforce this order, especially in remote areas.”

The new measures do exceed the current Canadian regulations aligned with international standards from the International Maritime Organization and complement mandatory requirements in place through the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations.

The Transport Canada measures will also be supported by periodic reporting by the cruise operators to assess levels of compliance. These reports will be made public and the information from them will support a future regulatory approach to controlling discharge of greywater and blackwater in Canadian waters, according to Transport Canada. 

These measures are being implemented by an Interim Order, which has the same effect as a regulation, but allows for action to be taken immediately while the process for making the regulations mandatory for the longer term is being implemented.

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