Cruise ships are not the most environmentally friendly holiday destinations on the planet. In fact, according to the latest Cruise Ship Report Card by Friends of the Earth, they might be about the worst. These floating resorts dump billions of litres of sewage into the open ocean every year. In a sense, every cruise is a poop cruise.
That's a lot of sludge to pour onto unsuspecting fish. But thanks to pollution regulations from the International Maritime Organisation, it's entirely legal. Acknowledging that dumping "raw sewage into the sea can create a health hazard," the IMO says its ok for ships on international voyages to dump treated sewage into the open ocean if the vessel is at least three nautical miles offshore. If the sewage is untreated, the ship must be 12 nautical miles from shore before it dumps the passengers' dumps.
The numbers themselves are downright sobering. Friends of Earth does a little bit of arithmetic with official government figures:
The U.S. EPA estimates that a 3,000-person cruise ship generates 150,000 gallons of sewage per week — enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools. This adds up to more than 1 billion gallons of sewage a year for the industry.
You might be thinking that the ocean is big enough to handle a little bit of human shit. We're not talking about a little bit of human shit though. We're talking about a lot of human shit mixed with everything from dirty pool water to photography lab chemicals.
Some of the most modern ships claim not to produce any waste. However, many of them use antiquated treatment facilities that are incapable of filtering out the most toxic ingredients in the sewage. Carnival Cruise Lines is the biggest offender. "With 22 ships using 35-year-old sewage treatment technology, Carnival has the worst impact on our oceans of any other cruise line," according to Friends of the Earth.
This year's Cruise Ship Report Card also looks at air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. Every single cruise line surveyed failed the transparency portion of the test. Costa Crociere, famous for its Costa Concordia disaster, and Crystal Cruises failed in every single category.