A recent article published in the Vancouver Sun, amongst other newspapers, suggests that the waters off British Columbia are quickly becoming “the toilet bowl of North America”, and blatantly accuses cruise lines of dumping raw sewage into Canadian waters.

The driving force behind the recent article?  Noted anti-cruise ship group Friends of the Earth, who’ve railed against the cruise industry many times this year over a litany of supposed infractions, deficiencies, and neglectful behaviour.  As always, their stance is heavy-handed: we’re right and you’re wrong.

Which is what makes the article all the more difficult to digest: there’s no balance.  Friends of the Earth come out with guns blazing every time there’s the possibility of some environmental infraction on the part of the cruise lines, and they certainly don’t go to the trouble to point out the sophisticated waste treatment system carried by most cruise lines (nor do they bother to point out an American small-ship line was recently accused of dumping raw sewage into Bar Harbor, Maine – twice.)

Nope, it’s all happening in Alaska, and Canadians should be ashamed – and angry.  The group even trotted out noted anti-cruise personality Ross Klein to comment on the situation.  Mr. Klein, a professor in St. John’s, Newfoundland, has studied the cruise ship industry extensively in the past ten years, and I have no doubt he is well-researched and read.  Sadly, like Friends of the Earth, his message operates on one note: negative.

The sad part is this: that the Sapphire Princess’s recent encounter with a whale – which proved to be deceased prior to being hit – almost turned into a cause celebre for those wanting to take a run at the industry.  No one reports when a cruise line donates truckloads of beds to charity, or used televisions to those in need.  No one goes to great lengths to point out the industry’s various successes in curbing environmental impact or the astronomical amount of money they’ve spent investing in shoreside power and emissions scrubbers for their funnels.

If cruise lines didn’t give a damn about the environment – as Friends of the Earth alleges – then why spend millions of dollars on sophisticated waste-treatment facilities?  Why bother having incinerators that burn off garbage and waste products in order to heat the ship’s hot water systems?  Or solar panels fitted to the roof in a bid to reduce power – and thus fuel – consumption?

One hundred years ago, during the height of the immigration boom and the peak of transatlantic travel, far more ocean liners criss-crossed the world’s seas than today’s modern cruise ships.  With the lucrative “third class” passsengers looking to emigrate to America, many of these liners carried in excess of three thousand passengers.  And they certainly didn’t have today’s waste-treatment plants at their disposal; that waste went straight into the ocean.

Is it a problem?  Yes.  Have the lines made mistakes in the past?  Yes.  Should cruise lines be mindful of it and try to mitigate and reduce their environmental impact?  Of course.

Most importantly: are cruise lines making constant eco-friendly improvements?  Yes.

We should encourage the cruise lines to continue to do better – not criticize them at every opportunity.


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