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Alabama port now home to cruise ship

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Alabama port now home to cruise ship, questions about pollution

MOBILE, Ala. - The 727-foot Holiday from the Carnival Cruise Lines begins its long-term operations from its new homeport in Mobile on Saturday with a sold-out voyage to Mexico, raising in its wake new questions for the state about marine pollution.

The Holiday is not the largest ship calling at Mobile, which has massive coal-loading and cargo plants used by even bigger vessels. But the 1,452-passenger Holiday differs in that it becomes a small city at sea, generating a lot of waste 24 hours a day - and Alabama has no law specifically dealing with cruise ship discharges.

Carnival's spokeswoman said the cruise line is "proactive" in handling trash and wastewater, and officials in New Orleans, which has been home to the Holiday, said the port had no environmental problems with it or other cruise ships.

Stephanie Showalter, an attorney who is director of the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi, said if a state lacks a law covering cruise ships, federal officials can designate a "no-discharge" zone within state waters to protect marine life.

Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, which responds to incidents of marine pollution, said they were not aware of any such designation for Alabama waters.

"While the problem of cruise ship wastewater discharges is often blown out of proportion, it is something that Alabama should have on its radar," Showalter said.

"Although the cruise industry has been working to improve waste management because they want to be seen as environmental stewards, dumping does happen and can have serious local impacts," she said.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management works cooperatively with the Coast Guard to monitor vessels that have onboard sanitation sewer systems, ADEM spokesman Clint Niemeyer said.

"If the discharges are from normal operations of a vessel while it is used for transportation, it's exempt from our permitting requirements," he said. "However, if an accidental discharge or spill occurs within state waters, the offending party would still be subject to our enforcement actions. But the Coast Guard would still take the lead in discovering all the details of how it occurred."

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Mike Adams said during vessel inspections, Coast Guard officials have ways of tracking wastes, such as looking at ship receipts for waste shipments or checking ash levels in the incinerator.

"Our inspectors have a good idea how much trash is being generated," Adams said.

As for at-sea discharges, he said a permanent federal regulation is expected that will require the ship's operator to state when they conduct their discharges.

Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz of Miami said the Holiday, built in 1985, has an onboard incinerator, a recycling program and facilities to handle "gray water" - untreated water from showers, sinks, kitchen and laundry drains, dishwashers and other areas of the ship - and "black water" - the effluent wastewater from the sewage system.

A large cruise ship can generate more than 200,000 gallons of sewage and 1 million gallons of gray water in a single week.

According to the Center for Marine Conservation, the annual discharge of millions of gallons of gray water and black water may harm ecologically sensitive areas such as coral reefs. The CMC's comments are included in a February 2000 report on the cruise industry by the General Accounting Office, the government watchdog agency.

Like gray water effluent, there is little, if any oversight over the contents of black water before it is discharged into the ocean, according to Coast Guard officials in the GAO report.

Carnival's spokeswoman said all Carnival ships are fitted with approved marine sanitation devices. She said gray water and black water are allowed to be discharged only when the ship is beyond 12 nautical miles from land and traveling at speeds of more than six knots.

Under federal law, cruise ships can legally dump raw sewage beyond three miles from shore and treated sewage anywhere. But Alaska, Florida, and Maine have adopted legislation prohibiting wastewater discharges in state waters or entered into memoranda of understanding with the industry, Showalter said.

Carnival's waste disposal activities are kept in logs reviewed by the Coast Guard during its inspections, Cruz said.

The GAO says most illegal discharges are addressed through the Coast Guard's civil penalty process. Fines can run up to $25,000 per violation. More serious cases are turned over to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecutions.

According to Cruz, Carnival has been "proactive" in research and testing of advanced wastewater purification systems. She said the company's 24 ships have installed several different versions of advanced wastewater purification technology.

She said Carnival is also involved in developing technology to treat sea water used for ballast in order to eliminate the introduction of non-indigenous species in ballast water.

Also, a lot of waste generated during a voyage can be recycled.

The company says an average of 170,000 pounds of cardboard, aluminum cans, plastics, glass and steel are recycled each month from Carnival's fleet and nearly 7,200 pounds of batteries and 18,000 fluorescent lamp bulbs are recycled annually.

The Holiday transferred from New Orleans, which got a bigger Carnival vessel, the Sensation.

"We have experienced no environmental issues from the Carnival Holiday or any of the cruise ships that call the Port of New Orleans. Carnival has been a great partner, and we look forward to deepening our relationship with them," said Chris Bonura, the spokesman for the New Orleans port.

Story by GARRY MITCHELL, Associated Press

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