Cruise ships continue to foul the Baltic Sea

Posted on 22 September 2010

Despite promises to use port facilities to offload waste water, more than half of the cruise ships in the Baltic Sea still dump their toilet water straight into the sea, WWF revealed today.
Despite promises to use port facilities to offload waste water, more than half of the cruise ships in the Baltic Sea still dump their toilet water straight into the sea, WWF revealed today.

To this end, WWF is demanding a ban on waste water dumping in the Baltic ahead of an international meeting next week.

In May 2009, ECC, an organization representing the major cruise companies operating in Europe, committed to stop dumping their waste water in the Baltic Sea “when certain conditions were met”.

These conditions included “adequate port reception facilities which operate under a ‘no special fee’ agreement”. Today, at least two major ports around the Baltic Sea, Stockholm and Helsinki, meet these conditions.

However, WWF revealed today that most cruise ships do not use these port facilities.

As the cruise season ended last week, Stockholm had in all 240 ship visits in 2010. Of these 240, only 115 used existing port facilities and even some of these 115 only offloaded small amounts, suggesting that most of the sewage, even from these, has been dumped at sea. At the same time, the ports of St Petersburn, Tallin, Riga, Klaipeda, Gdansk, Rostock and Copenhagen still lack port facilities that meet the demand of the cruise industry.

“The problem is that there are no laws regulating this”, says Mattias Rust of WWF. “Anything like this would have been absolutely unthinkable on land, but just because it is out of sight for most of us, we still let it happen”.

A proposal to ban the discharge of passenger ships was identified as a priority action in the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), agreed by all Baltic Sea countries in 2007.

Next week, the worlds shipping nations meet at the International Maritime Organization in London to discuss environmental issues. In a joint submission from all the Baltic Sea states, the IMO will be asked to “ban discharge of sewage from passenger ships and ferries in the Baltic Sea unless it has been sufficiently treated to remove nutrients or delivered to port reception facilities”.

The cruise industry is a rapidly growing industry. In the last ten years, the numbers of cruise passengers in the Baltic Sea region has tripled and now amounts to over 3 million. In Stockholm only, 415,000 cruise passengers spent on average 130 euro each, providing the city with an income of 54 million euro.

In total, the Baltic Sea receives more than 350 cruise ship visits with over 2,100 port calls each year. The waste-water produced in these vessels is estimated to contain 113 tons of nitrogen and 38 tons of phosphorus, substances that add to eutrophication of the sea. Most of this sewage is still discharged into the Baltic Sea. In addition to excess nutrients, the waste water also contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, as well as heavy metals.

“The cruise companies as well as the cities that receive the ships are making millions on this industry”, says Mattias Rust. “They both share the responsibility to solve the waste water problem.”

About IMO and MARPOL

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) holds its 61st meeting in London 27 September to 1 October.
The IMO sets international maritime vessel safety and marine pollution standards under the MARPOL 73/78 convention. The revised annex IV of MARPOL 73/78 concerning rules on sewage treatment for ships entered into force on 1 August 2005. The Annex IV is one of the four voluntary annexes of the MARPOL convention’s six annexes. The annex sets out how sewage should be treated or held aboard ships and how the discharge into the sea may be allowed. It also requires the parties to the convention to provide adequate sewage reception facilities. The annex only applies to ships engaged in international voyages, of 400 gross tonnages and above and ships of less than 400 tonnages that are certified to carry more than 15 persons. The Member States are responsible for the vessel’s compliance with MARPOL, when flagged under their respective nationalities.

The revised Annex IV requires ships to be equipped with either a sewage treatment plant, a sewage comminuting (“reducing to minute particles”) and disinfecting system, or a sewage holding tank. Discharge of sewage is allowed when the ship is discharging comminuted and disinfected sewage, using an approved system, at a distance of more than three nautical miles from the nearest coast line, or sewage which is not disinfected at a distance of more than twelve nautical miles from the nearest land. Ships shall, when discharging sewage that has been stored in holding tanks or originating from spaces containing living animals, always do so at a moderate rate when the ship is en route and proceeding in not less than four knots. Furthermore, the effluent shall not produce visible floating solids nor cause discoloration of the surrounding water.

The discharge of sewage is always permitted if is for the purpose of securing the safety of the ship and those on board, saving life at sea or if the discharge is a result of damage to the ship or its equipment and if all reasonable precautions have been taken before and after to prevent or minimize the discharge.

The revised Annex IV requires the government of each party to the convention to ensure the provision of reception facilities for sewage at ports and terminals, adequate to meet the needs of the ships using them and without causing delay to the ships.

As mentioned above, Annex IV is only binding to the countries signing on to this specific annex, but all the countries around the Baltic Sea are parties both to the MARPOL 73/78 convention and to Annex IV.

In addition, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has adopted recommendations and guidelines related to the MARPOL 73/78 and the revised Annex IV. These include standards for the rate of discharge of untreated sewage from ships and for onboard treatment facilities.

A Special Area is today defined as "a sea area where for recognised technical reasons in relation to its oceanographical and ecological conditions and to the particular character of its traffic, the adoption of special mandatory methods for the prevention of sea pollution by oil, noxious liquid substances or garbage, as applicable, is required." Under the Convention, these Special Areas are provided with a higher level of protection than other areas of the sea.

The Baltic Sea countries are now proposing to amend MARPOL Annex IV to include the possibility to establish “special areas” for the prevention of pollution from sewage of passenger ships and to designate the Baltic Sea as such a Special Area.
Waste water released from cruise ships and other vessels discharge hundreds of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Baltic each year, contributing to large-scale toxic algae blooms and a reduction of water quality.
© Ulf Bohman