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Ecology Calls for Oversight of Cruise Ships' Waste Releases

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Cruise ships should start telling state authorities where they are dumping sewage in Washington waters, the Department of Ecology said yesterday.

The agency's proposal came as it slapped an order on Norwegian Cruise Lines directing the company to make improvements on the Norwegian Sun, which unleashed about 40 tons of raw sewage earlier this month on its first 2003 cruise out of Seattle.

The incident sparked widespread outrage and calls for cruise lines to make their vessels shipshape.

"We want them to engage with us in a process to create some kind of system that gives the state some kind of oversight regarding their waste-water operations," said Larry Altose, an Ecology spokesman.

Port of Seattle spokesman Mick Shultz said the port is actively encouraging the talks, and believes the cruise lines "are good environmental citizens."

"We're trying to take a proactive role and ... make sure that this industry, which is contributing something important to our economy, isn't regulated out of our economy," Shultz said.

Cruise-ship industry officials likewise said they are eager to see what Ecology has in mind.

"Holland America Line would be very comfortable working with a broader, industrywide effort," said Rose Abello, a spokeswoman for Holland America.

"We welcome an opportunity to talk with them," said Tom Dow, vice president for public affairs of Princess Cruises.

Ecology's announcement marks a victory for environmentalists. Shortly after the Norwegian Sun dumping came to light, several groups organized a protest in front of cruise-ship docks while passengers were boarding.

"It sounds like we've resonated," said Fred Felleman, northwest director of Ocean Advocates.

Although Ecology did not say specifically what it wants from the cruise lines, the agency called for "an industrywide effort to develop a state oversight program." Environmentalists want to see the cruise ships report all discharges -- of sewage, treated sewage and ballast water.

"Getting some sort of reporting requirement is exactly what we've been asking for," Felleman said. However, environmentalists ultimately would like to see a state inspector aboard each ship to ensure the waste systems are properly operated, he said.

"It's a start," Felleman said of Ecology's announcement.

Holland America's Abello said the M.S. Amsterdam, which docks here weekly, has a zero-discharge policy within all Washington waters.

Princess Cruises' policies call for no discharges in Puget Sound south of Whidbey Island, or in Elliott Bay.

Norwegian already has taken most of the steps detailed in Ecology's order to improve operations aboard the Sun, said cruise line spokeswoman Susan Robison.

Those steps include updating labels on waste-water tanks and pipes aboard the Sun, integrating the ship's computer system with the waste-water system, updating logs and records and vessel documents, and conducting additional training for ship workers.

The sewage dump, which took place in the wee hours May 3 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca north and west of Port Townsend, resulted from a crew member's mistake.

A tank that previously held "gray water" from the ship's sinks and showers had been redesignated to hold "black water," or concentrated raw sewage, Ecology officials said.

Ecology's order yesterday said the dumping "most likely" violated state law.

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