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Regulations and Compliance

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The environmental standards that apply to the cruise line industry are stringent and comprehensive. Cruise lines operate within a comprehensive scheme of international environmental standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) sets strict standards for all commercial vessels to prevent ship-generated pollution. The cruise line industry meets or exceeds all applicable international, federal and state requirements.

It is important to note that all ships visiting ports, regardless of where they are flagged, must comply with all applicable federal regulations. For example, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Web site, they have “the responsibility for ensuring that these ships meet all international conventions and domestic requirements for safety, security and environmental protection.”

There are strict standards for how clean the wastewater must be before it is discharged into the sea. In addition to the IMO standards, in early 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new and expanded rules under the Vessel General Permit System that regulate any and all forms of vessel discharge, including those not previously covered by the U.S. Clean Water Act. Our industry has designed and implemented treatment technologies along with practices and procedures to meet – and in most cases exceed – these requirements. In many cases, the purified wastewater effluent from a cruise ship is cleaner than that of many municipalities.

In its December 2008 Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report, the EPA commended the industry for its solid waste management practices, which surpass the practices of most municipalities in the U.S. The report noted the cruise industry’s overall environmental standards are “designed to increase compliance with regulatory regimes, and in some cases incorporate voluntary standards and procedures that go beyond what is required by law or regulation.”

Air emissions, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, are also regulated at the international, federal and state levels. According to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Annex VI), cruise ships with diesel engines are issued an  International Air Pollution Prevention Certificate. The vessel’s flag State certifies that the ship meets the international emission limits. Similarly, going beyond what is required by regulators, new technologies being used by cruise lines further reduce sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions.

As of August 1, 2012, ocean-going vessels operating within 200 nautical miles of the mainland U.S. and Canada (except the Aleutian Islands) and Hawaii will be required to use fuel containing no more than 1% sulfur or comply via an equivalent method.   By January 1, 2015, ships within this area will be required use fuel containing no more than .1% sulfur or comply via an equivalent method.  

Additionally, every cruise line must also adhere to the International Maritime Organization’s International Safety Management Code. This code requires documentation of environmental practices and a goal of continuous improvement. A number of our member lines also have taken the extra step to be independently certified under ISO 14001, a rigorous international standard for environmental management systems. These programs require cruise lines to continually identify ways to improve their ships’ environmental performance.

CLIA’s oceangoing cruise lines all have senior level staff responsible for environmental programs, which include among many other things, compliance with applicable international, federal and state environmental regulations. These senior staff members are also responsible for the training, oversight, and implementation of other corporate environmental policies and practices on board. Their many responsibilities may include:

  • Training employees on compliance with environmental laws, policies and procedures and investigating allegations of improper conduct
  • Ensuring outstanding environmental compliance items are properly corrected and logged
  • Reporting unauthorized releases or spills and ensuring all plans for response are up-to-date and exercised
  • Reviewing environmental records, including waste record logs, for accuracy
  • Conducting sampling of effluent and ensuring all wastes are being managed properly
  • Evaluating environmental operating and management systems, procedures and contingency plans and make recommendations for improvement
  • Participating in professional activities to keep current on new technology and management systems for environmental programs and practices