Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 6:45 pm | A Few Clouds 70º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Cruise Lines Sailing Off Santa Barbara Rate Low on Environment

I once took a three-day cruise between Long Beach and Ensenada. The extended family affair was a dream come true for the Midwest majority. Cruising can be a relatively inexpensive way to glimpse the larger world from a relatively safe space. But at what cost to the environment?

The Los Angeles Times’ Hugo Martin reported this month that Princess Cruise Lines pleaded guilty to dumping illegal waste off the coast of England. In the name of saving money, the crew had used an illegal bypass system dubbed a “magic pipe” to discharge oily wastewater generated by shop machinery. They also were guilty of lying to the U.S. Coast Guard in a cover-up attempt.

Jan Swartz, president of the Santa Clarita-based company, announced new employee training, environmental procedures and equipment to prevent a repeat.

“We are very sorry for the inexcusable actions of our employees,” she said. “We also deeply regret that our oversight was inadequate. We take full responsibility.”

Princess Cruises, which earned $1.8 billion in net revenue in 2015, was fined $40 million for the magic pipe, which later was discovered on several other of its ships.

“[The Princess] case should send a powerful message to other companies,” said Wilfredo Ferrer, U.S. attorney in Miami, “that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive.”

But sparse federal enforcement funds keep honest compliance an open question.

Is this effluent a drop in the bucket, so to speak? The Environmental Protection Agency says an average cruise ship (3,000 passengers and crew) produces enough effluent to fill 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. This doesn’t count greywater from sinks and showers, which is about eight times that amount and may contain the same pollutants as raw sewage.

It makes me wonder what happens off our own coast. A 2003 California law prohibited cruise and cargo ships from discharging effluent or greywater within three miles of our coast. But it wasn’t until a 2012 EPA ruling that there was any way to enforce the law, which relied on the federal Clean Water Act.

What to do if you enjoy cruises but want to be a responsible consumer? The Friends of the Earth publishes an annual Cruise Ship Report Card, which this year found Disney to be the most conscientious cruise line. Friends rates the ships on sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. Based on these, Disney Cruises rated on overall A-.

Meanwhile, cruise lines that frequent Santa Barbara’s harbor rate shockingly low:

» Celebrity Cruises: D+

» Crystal Cruises: F

» Holland America Line: C

» Princess Cruises: C

In addition to poor absolute performance, the low scores reflect a refusal to confirm current environmental technologies, resulting in failing grades for transparency.

Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth, cautions, “With the Northwest Passage now open in the summer due to climate change, the cruise industry’s expanding itineraries will bring increasingly damaging pollution to even more sensitive areas like the Arctic. It’s way past time to set a higher bar for this dirty industry.”

The cruising public would do well to choose Disney cruises for their “happiest place on Earth” vacations. As for our Santa Barbara ship visitors, perhaps calls from those of us on the front lines of their sewage would encourage them to make us happy as well.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor ( and a freelance writer ( Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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