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Casino “cruise to nowhere” vessels – serious environmental threats

Lee Walton

As the latest in a series of articles on the subject, Sunday’s Palter and Chatter “Casino boats gain support” left little doubt that casino cruises will soon be running out of North Charleston’s old Navy Base at the rate two trips per day. This may not sound like much of a concern compared to larger 3,000 passenger cruise ships calling weekly at the Market Street Cruise Ship Terminal until one considers the number of passengers gaming vessels can carry. The environmental threats that these floating casinos will create to near-shore waters just three short miles off Charleston Harbor and the surrounding beach resorts are potentially far greater than a weekly cruise ship visit.

Sunday’s article stated that a boat “up to the 300-foot range” was envisioned for North Charleston’s casino voyages. A check of currently available casino vessels of this size indicates a Coast Guard certified capacity of 1,136 passengers on a 205-footer and 1,900 passengers on a 308-footer. These aren’t boats; they’re five to eight deck sea-going vessels as big as a WW II troop ship and easily over one-fourth the length of the carrier Yorktown. Two trips at just 60% capacity by a 300-footer would total almost 2,300 passengers per day. That’s the environmental equivalent of one Fantasy-size cruise ship per day operation and dumping sewage and bilge water just three miles off Charleston’s beaches – not hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic.

Even with only miniscule dock space and the navigational challenges of Little River at the SC-NC state line, two smaller 125-foot range, 500-plus passenger casino boats make multiple runs three miles into the Atlantic each day to quench the thirst and gambling habits of North Myrtle Beach tourist. The newfound greed of easy gambling money in North Charleston’s city coffers will certainly generate support for more than a single gaming vessel. With all that promise of easy money, there’s reason to speculate that the City of Charleston may also reconsider its 12-year old ordinance banning gambling “cruises to nowhere” in exchange for a share of the winnings.

As environmental threats, unlike freighters that carry only small crews across oceans, near-shore cruise ships and gaming vessels carry thousands of passengers and large crews that generate large, inordinate amounts of human sewage and other waste. EPA statistics indicate that a one-week voyage with 3,000 passengers and crew will generate approximately 210,000 gallons of raw sewage, 1-million gallons of dirty water from laundry and food preparation and 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water. A 300-foot “cruise to nowhere” gaming vessel operating twice daily just three-miles off Charleston Harbor will arguably be the waste producing equivalent of the Carnival Fantasy operating at the Charleston Sea Buoy for a week.

Dana Beach had better rethink his January 12th Commentary, “Cruise ships could threaten Charleston’s ‘delicate balance’ ”. As environmentally threatening to local waters as frequent cruise ships may be, several large gaming vessels running twice daily out past the three mile limit will become much greater, less regulated, close in threats to coastal water quality.

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