Improvement needed in cruise line practices, environment group says

Only one North American cruise line aced a report card on environmental practices that was released Wednesday by the nonprofit Friends of the Earth.

Disney Cruise Line earned an A grade from the group, which examined sewage treatment, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance.

Cruise giant Carnival Cruise Lines scored a C-, while sister companies Princess Cruises and Holland America Line each got a B. Crystal Cruises and Costa Cruises were at the bottom of the list, each with F grades.

According to the report, cruise ships were responsible for disposing of more than a billion gallons of sewage into the ocean last year.

Friends of the Earth graded 16 cruise lines using data from the Environmental Protection Agency and information from the cruise operators. The group looked at whether cruise lines had installed advanced sewage and wastewater treatment systems; whether they had retrofitted ships to plug in to electrical grids in port; rather than burn fuel while docked; and whether ships had violated water pollution standards in Alaska.

Cruise operators criticized the methodology, complaining that the organization ignored other practices that benefit the environment.

Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth, said some cruise lines showed improvement while others faltered in the report, the fourth issued by the group.

“It really depends on the line,” she said. “Last year was even more stagnant than this year.”

For example, she said, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both excelled in their advanced wastewater treatment systems. But she pointed out that those same cruise lines were not embracing shore power in port, which earned Royal Caribbean an F and Celebrity a D in air pollution reduction. Overall, Celebrity had a C+ and Royal Caribbean got a C; both are owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Rich Pruitt, associate vice president of safety and environmental stewardship for Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the report does not indicate that shore power is only available in limited ports and fails to give the company credit for investments in energy efficiency and other technology to reduce emissions.

“There’s all these other factors that you have to include before you put a grade on somebody,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Crystal Cruises called the report’s criteria and research “random, arbitrary and incomplete” and provided a list of environmentally friendly practices.

Roger Frizzell, a spokesman for Carnival Corp., said the company is making progress. Nearly half of the company’s fleet, or 48 ships, have advanced wastewater treatment plants already, and the company is working to increase its use of shore power. Still, in the sewage treatment category, Carnival Cruise Lines got an F.

“The poor grades attributed to a couple of our cruise lines were based completely on the grading system that they have not yet installed advanced waste water systems installed or shore-based power systems, hardly a realistic grading system given the complexity of a cruise line’s sustainability systems and requirements,” he wrote in an email.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association said the report “does a disservice to consumers that may wish to obtain credible information on the responsible environmental practices of cruise lines.”

CLIA public affairs director David Peikin said in an email that member lines are investing in a variety of ways to treat wastewater and reduce air pollution. He said many industry practices go beyond regulatory requirements.

Keever said Friends of the Earth is pushing for tougher sewage treatment standards at the national and international level.

“They’re not stringent enough,” she said.

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