The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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Cruise Ship Forum

A need for state and local ordinances?
Citizens concerned about pollution issues

Warwick Jones

We thought it a good forum. Four featured speakers eloquently gave their views – generally critical - of cruise ships and their impact on the environment and beyond. Their views resonated well with the audience that numbered well over 200. The questions and comments from the audience indicated considerable concern over the cruise ship industry and in particular, the impact of cruise ships on Charleston. And from the tone of their comments, many citizens wished the cruise ships would go elsewhere.

What was conspicuously missing for the forum was the view of the other side – the cruise ships. There was nobody on the panel to speak on their behalf and there was no sympathy expressed by members of the audience, though City Council member Riegel noted the benefit that would accrue to the City from the development of the present port area. The audience was told that Jim Newsome, executive direction of the SPA had been invited to the forum but that he had declined, commenting that the proper place for discussion was on the Task Force set up by the City to oversee such issues. Not said was that Mr. Newsome was invited only at the last minute and only because one of the planned early sponsors felt that the forum was one-sided and needed balance.

Mr. Rick Corrigan of the Preservation Society, a co-host of the forum, read a letter from Mr. Newsome that had been sent to City residents and which refuted many of the allegations that had been made against the cruise ships. But it seemed to make little difference to either the speakers or the audience. Indeed, in the period for questions, one member of the audience seemed to suggest that Mr. Newsome was lying.

The forum was opened by Dana Beach, the executive director of the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) the latter the major sponsor of the forum. He was followed by Mr. Corrigan who moderated. Nobody wanted to get rid of the cruise ships, Mr. Corrigan said but implied, as did Mr. Beach in his opening speech that they needed to be strictly regulated.

And if there was a single thread connecting all of the speakers’ presentations, it was the question is the industry sufficiently regulated? The speakers and probably the audience had a uniform view - no, they weren’t!

Ms. Neisha Kilkarni was the first speaker and represented Friends of the Earth. She gave a 30 minute speech in 15 minutes so some of the figures she presented were literally fleeting on the screen. But she emphasized the large amounts of waste cruise ships were generating, be it sewage, graywater or bilge. This waste was generally being dumped at sea and often too close to shore. She also noted that a 10 hour stay in port generated the equivalent exhaust of 12,400 cars (idling or running?) She noted that the US had been tardy in adopting international standards and in particularly Annex 4 and 6 of MARPL, the acronym for an International Agreement on shipping. Annex 4 relates to the dumping of sewage and remains un-adopted. Annex 6 which related to the burning only of low sulfur fuel was adopted just recently. She said that local laws were necessary to fully protect the environment.

Ms. Kilkani had lots of figures on waste and sewage dumping. Understandably, they were large and perhaps not surprising given the size of cruise ships these days. But the credibility of some of her conclusions would be reinforced if she quoted a source for some of these figures. And this observation applied to the following speaker.

Dr. Ross Klein, an academic and expert on the cruise ship industry gave a brief description of the cruise industry and the moves made by other states to contain and control the environmental impact. The major cruise lines were Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. The industry was dominated by Carnival with a 53% market share, a fleet of 95 ships with another 11 on order. Its profits last year were $2.5 billion and it paid no taxes, he said. He noted the growth of the industry and the trend to large ships and declining fares. He also noted that concomitant with this was the provision of more on-board facilities where passengers could spend their money. And as a result of this, a declining percentage was being spent at ports of call. He suggested that on-shore spending may be as low as $45 per person as compared to $100 per person estimated for some years ago.

Dr Klein went on to describe measures some states had taken to control cruise ships, in particularly waste dumping and emissions. California had gone as far as to ban all dumping within state waters. He got applause when he quoted the head of Crystal Cruises, the shipping line that discharged 36,000 gallons of waste into Monterey Bay some years ago - “We did not break the law but only our word”. The line was banned from the Bay for 15 years. He also noted the adverse impact of cruise ships on Key West and the successful efforts of local citizens to cut back on visits. From a peak of 1 million a year, visitors had dropped to 700,000 a year.

The comments and views of Dr Klein were interesting. But we thought he went too far in his demonizing. He made much about the large profits the lines were generating. He also derided the fact that cruise lines owned terminals in some ports and that they were vertically integrating, for example, operating the tour buses in some ports. Why is vertical integration wrong? Why are high profits wrong? In themselves they are not, but only if they come at the expense of the environment.

Dr Rick Reid, a local medical practitioner spoke next and mostly about health issues not necessarily confined to cruise ships. He noted the high incidence of respiratory ailments amongst athletes- presumably a very healthy lot. The increasing incidence suggested that the environment was the cause of the ailments and he went further to suggest that the environment was now the major determinant of longevity, displacing exercise and heredity. He made some disparaging comments about cruise ship industry and passengers, half jest, half serious.

Mr. Joe Payne wrapped up the presentations. He is a member of the Friends of Cisco Bay in Maine and played a large role in getting the state and federal authorities to implement measures to contain/eliminate pollution in the Bay. He noted the opposition of cruise ships to these measures and the threats that the industry would abandon Portland as a port of call. The industry didn’t abandon Portland after the measures were implemented and Mr. Payne warned that Charleston had lots to offer cruise ships and that the industry needed Charleston more than Charleston needed the industry. He encouraged citizens to speak out and not to underestimate the impact of a small but vocal group.

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