The Necessity of Having a Consistent International Environmental Law Regarding Cruise Ship Pollution

Categories: Air Pollution

Sustainable Culture:

We Need Consistent Cruise Ship Pollution Laws

In essence, cruise ships are floating small towns. They carry thousands of passengers on ships that often stand thirteen decks tall. While researching the background of cruise ship industry in U.S. and Canada, I found that cruise ship industry is a big contributor of the economies of many American and Canadian port cities. For example, each time a ship docks at Seattle, it pumps $1.7 million into the local economy, $2 million into the greater Vancouver economy, and $1 billion annually into Victoria's tourism sector (Brooks & Dunn 559).

The cruise line industry spends millions of dollars annually promoting trips with photos and videos of travel through pristine waters and of passengers observing aquatic wildlife in its natural habitat while enjoying the scenic beauty of the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest. However, cruise ships generate enormous amounts of both water pollution and air pollution. While researching, I found
that the laws that regulates pollution that caused by cruise ships is different around the world, some countries have lax pollution laws and other ones have strict laws.

This caused an interesting phenomenon that cruise ship companies take advantage of the laws, they found they have no obligation to follow the stricter laws and tend to emit more pollution into the ocean when they are temporarily sailing through the waters of the country with the laxer pollution
regulations. In order for a more real and effective improvement of decreasing the pollution caused by cruise ship industry, we need a consistent international environmental law.

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I have divided my paper into four main sections for the readers to follow up. In the first section, I provide statistical data and numbers as evidence to show that the cruise ship industry generates enormous amounts of both water pollution and air pollution. In the second section, I compare and contrast how laws and regulations that constraint cruise ship pollution is different around the world. In the third section, I state that cruise ship companies are taking advantages of the laws and we need a consistent law to control the pollution internationally. In the fourth section, I conclude the paper by summing up what I wrote and reiterating my opinion.

The Pollution Caused by Cruise Ships

Water pollution. A luxury cruise vacation may sound like a perfect dream holiday for most of us, but in terms of environmental impact, the industry is an absolute nightmare. The downside of the fun, food and entertainment is the enormous amount of sewage, food and garbage, graywater from sinks, showers, laundries, swimming pools, and kitchens and other wastes being discharged into the seas. A typical cruise ship produces approximately 170,000 gallons of gray water, 21,000 gallons of sewage, 6,400 gallons of bilge water, 1 ton of solid waste, more than 25 pounds of batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals, and about 8,500 bottles per day (Brooks & Dunn 559). Even 'green' cruise ships are polluting the earth at incredible rates. Cruise ship can also generate a shocking amount of waste streams that contain pollutants including bacteria, viruses, pathogens and pharmaceuticals; these waste streams not only caused negative consequences on the marine life and resulted in threats for sea animals, they are also the reasons for some harmful social effects to the residents at coastal regions (“Cruise Ships Cause Marine Pollution”).

Air pollution

Air pollution is a concept all of us aware about. Cruise ships cause enormous air pollution because all of the cruise ships are powered by heavy fuel oil, which produces noxious fumes when burned that can harm not only passengers of the cruise, but all those in the vicinity of the ship, while greatly accelerating climate change (McMaster). Cruise ships emit dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide every day, these ultra-fine particles could lead to lung diseases, heart attacks, strokes and are also linked to diabetes and cause deterioration for asthma and COPD (Kim). The estimated daily air pollution generated by a typical 3,000-passenger ship burning bunker fuel is the equivalent of 12,000 cars (Brooks & Dunn 559). Passengers on a cruise ship could be inhaling “60 times higher concentrations of harmful air pollutants” than they would in natural air settings, also, it is unbelievably 20 times worse than in the busy city centers
of some port cities with really heavy traffic (Kim).

Laws Are Not Consistent in Different countries

Water Pollution Laws. The governments around the world are making efforts to increase oversight of cruise ships and assess their impacts on local environments. They have enacted some laws to constraint and control the cruise ship pollution to an acceptable level. However, there are no consistent regulations concerning water pollution caused by cruise ships. For example, the states of Washington and Alaska have rules about discharging gray water, but the province of British Columbia does not (Brooks & Dunn 559). The absence of consistent federal and international regulations for cruise ships are creating a loophole in the system which allows operators to pick and choose what rules they comply with and where to discharge waste (Voo). For example, instead of following the tough standards in Alaska and Washington standards set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between the state, cruise ships tend to release their untreated gray water legally as they pass through the Straits of Juan de Fuca separating Vancouver Island from the mainland of Canada and the United States. These ships still sail to and from Alaska and Washington, and still drop off and pick up passengers there, but if they simply choose not to participate in either state's tougher set of guidelines, they can choose to hold their wastes and discharge in Canada where regulation is less stringent. According to Beatrice
Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, "Cruise ship companies are taking advantage of Canada's weaker laws on sewage discharge to save money. It is bizarre that B.C. residents should bear the burden of cruise ship pollution from well-heeled tourists” (Brooks & Dunn 559). Air Pollution Laws. Adversely, the air pollution laws are consistent in U.S. and Canada. In 2012, both United States and Canada enacted new laws that forced container ships, oil tankers,
ad large cruise ships to reduce their bunker fuel to 1%. Even better, the allowable level dropped to 0.1% by 2015. Authority institutions estimated that the new regulations would improve air quality by a significant trend which would resulting in saving as many as 14,000 lives each year. This number is equivalent to eliminate the sulfur dioxide emissions of 12.7 million cars per day. However, these new regulations only apply to cruise ships sailing within the 200-mile limit of the United States and Canada. Cruise ships outside the limit can still burn heavy bunker fuel without violating any international environmental laws or regulations (Brooks & Dunn 559).

Future Development

With the increase of cruise ship traffic all over the world, more waste streams, are discharged legally or illegally into waters. Some countries started introducing new regulations to curb their impacts. However, legislation is lacking when it becomes international. Cruise ship industries take advantages of the loophole in the law system and emit more pollution when they are traveling within the countries that have laxer laws and regulations. After conducting all the
researches regarding the cruise ship pollution, I believe that the best way to solve the current issue and efficiently decrease the pollution level is for the International Maritime Organization to set a consistent international maritime vessel safety and marine pollution standards. The goal of achieving a consistent air pollution law is in progress already: the IMO has proposed a worldwide limit of 0.5% sulfur content on all marine vessels by 2020 (Brooks & Dunn 559).
However, we cannot neglect how harmful the water pollution caused by cruise ship industry is not only to the environment we live in, and also to human health concerns. These international standards set in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships needs to be applied consistently and uniformly to all vessels engaged in international commerce.


The cruise ship industry is growing tremendously due to consumer demand and increasing number of travel population every year, it is inevitable that the degree of pollution caused by the cruise ships will affect the environment adversely. Cruise ships generate enormous amount of waste streams that are dumped into the oceans daily, and also emit dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide every day. With the shocking amount of pollution released by cruise ships, consequences of threatening the aquatic lives, toxic substances killing sea animals and contamination of water with bacteria and viruses harmful to humans become worse and worse every day. There are laws and regulation governing this critical problem, however, there is no consistent international laws. Cruise ship industries take advantages of the loophole in the law system to dump wastes in the waters of countries that have laxer laws and regulations. In the near future, cruise tourism is definitely expanding and in return, the effects of cruise ship pollution will be more serious if the problem is not worked on and solved. However, the International Maritime Organization has already started working on a consistent air pollution law which will be passed in 2020. Still, in
order to reduce cruise ships' harmful discharges, more stringent and consistent international environmental laws can be passed by governments to regulate the discharge of untreated waste streams.

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The Necessity of Having a Consistent International Environmental Law Regarding Cruise Ship Pollution. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from

The Necessity of Having a Consistent International Environmental Law Regarding Cruise Ship Pollution
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