July 15, 2008 Most international cruise ship companies operating in the Baltic Sea have refused to co-operate with a plea from WWF to stop dumping their sewage straight into the water.
The Baltic, an inland sea, is one of the most polluted seas in the world, so much so that the countries on its northern European shores have recently joined together to form the Baltic Sea Action Plan in an attempt to reverse its decline.
WWF contacted ferry lines and cruise ship companies sailing there asking for a voluntary ban on waste-water discharge. So far most of the ferry lines have responded positively, but only three of the international cruising lines have signed up.
“We think it should be the responsibility of anyone operating a ship in the Baltic Sea to take care of their own wastes in a responsible manner and stop polluting the sea,” said Mats Abrahamsson, Program Director of the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Program. “If some companies can sign our agreement, why can’t the others?”
The Baltic Sea receives between 250 and 300 cruise ships each year and the waste-water produced is estimated to contain 113 tons of nitrogen and 38 tons of phosphorus, substances that add to the eutrophication of the sea.
Eutrophication is considered by many to be the main environmental problem of the Baltic Sea, causing both biological and economic damage to marine environment and coastal areas.
It is caused by an overload of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, into the ecosystem. Eutrophication causes many problems, including unusually strong and frequent blooms of “blue-green” algae.
Some of these algae produce toxins harmful to both humans and animals, with people even advised not to go in the water in many parts of the Baltic.
Furthermore, when the algae die they sink to the bottom and consume large amounts of oxygen, causing “dead zones”. Seven of the largest dead zones in the world are at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The lack of oxygen and sun-light - blocked out by the algae - also has an impact on plant life and on fish re-production.
In addition to excess nutrients, the waste water dumped by the boats also contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. “The most obvious thing they should do is install storage tanks large enough for them to carry the waste to the next port,” said Abrahamsson.
“Ships go into port quite often, so they can easily do that. They complain that the facilities in the ports are not efficient or large enough, but that is just a bad excuse.
“We concede that the facilities could be improved and we have told the companies we’re happy to work with them to influence the authorities to improve their capacity to receive this waste. But it’s already perfectly possible to do it.”
Dr. Anita Mäkinen, Head of Marine Programme for WWF Finland, said: “Some big cruise ships are treating their waste waters onboard, but only according to the Alaska regulations, which do not regulate nutrients but only bacteria and organic content of the waste water. They don’t seem to understand that this is not enough in the Baltic Sea.”
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