Cruise Ships Dump Billions Of Litres Of Sewage In The Ocean Every Year

Cruise ships dump a billion gallons of sewage in the ocean every year

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.

Picture: Getty

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    As someone who works in the water treatment industry. This is not news. Also if you think your sewerage doesn’t go into rivers/ocean then you may be surprised to know that ALL treated sewerage goes into the ocean one way or another (or back into your drinking supply!), unless it goes into the water table or evaporated into the air. But again, that isn’t a big deal.

    35-year-old sewage treatment technology

    Treatment plants are not like Apple; a new model doesn't come out every year. The fundamentals of sewerage treatment have not changed for a long time. Most improvements are usually focused in getting peak performance from old tech, which saves in Capital for the utility (or company), or to get a better grade of treated water (effluent) so it can be used legally for parks, school, homes, road works etc.

    Having said all that, there is a difference in letting raw sewerage flow freely into the nearest creak (usually the difference between 3rd world and 1st world). But we are not talking about raw sewerage (and I can understand kicking up a stink about releasing raw sewerage, solids and all, into the ocean). As mentioned in this article the worst company has some treatment at least.

    You might be thinking that the ocean is big enough to handle a little bit of human shit.

    There is a phrase that is used often around here:
    "Dilution is the solution to pollution"

    Last edited 10/12/14 2:58 pm

      I agree how is this news?
      Melbourne treats to class C (?) water before *dumping* it back into the bay or in the pastures

      I wonder how many billions of tonnes fish/dolphins/sharks/whales shit out every day?

        Sounds about right. in fact anything above class A, used for parks etc. has to be "dirtied" (passed through a wetland) before it can go into the river. As it would be too clean water and would damage the ecosystem.

    How much sewage do fish dump in it?

    "Transparency: Did the cruise lines, respond to our requests for information regarding their environmental practices."

    So some random call or email ignored and you get a F... yet if you do some Googling you start to hit page after page on company websites about environmental programs, practices, etc.

    "Air Pollution Reduction: Whether a cruise line has retrofitted its ships to “plug in” to available shoreside electrical grids instead of running polluting engines when docked."

    So a single factor = Pass or Fail. So if you connect to the grid, and get power from a diesel generator (like many power plants on tropical islands) you "pass", yet if you make it on the boat with a diesel generator you fail.

    I also like the picture on the second page of the PDF.... sorry that brown water is not sewage, it's the ship stirring up the sea bottom as it positions it self for the tender that's coming in

    Lastly humans poop, be that while they are at home or on their holiday... and as ricadam points out most of it all ends up at the same place.

    Sorry FOE, that report gets a F

    Last edited 10/12/14 5:50 pm

      The type of engines that these ships run are normally fired using the crappiest of the bunker fuels. You might find that the generators are still better

        Some run on distillate fuel (i.e. LM2500+ gas turbine you see in Radiance of the Seas) and I'd argue it's way cleaner then a grid based diesel generator. The only reason we don't see more gas turbines is because of the refueling options offered by many ports (i.e. you can only get bunker crap).

    cruise ships also have garbage shredders. Every night they shred all the garbage in to tiny pieces and release it in to the ocean. It's cheaper than disposing it responsibly.

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