Transport Canada Takes Important Step Towards Ocean Protection, But Improved Enforcement Still Needed
June 23, 2023
Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — Canada’s federal government announced today that it is turning previously voluntary environmental measures for cruise vessels operating in Canadian jurisdictions into mandatory measures.
This highly anticipated Interim Order from Transport Canada comes as part of Ottawa’s commitment to protect the ocean. The order indicates that Canadian and foreign vessels must not release greywater and sewage within three nautical miles of shore, and that they must treat greywater with sewage before it is discharged between three and 12 nautical miles from shore with an approved treatment device. The pollution standards now match Alaska’s limits, reducing the incentive for ships to dump in Canada’s jurisdiction before heading to Alaska.
The interim order, however, fails to include the majority of cruise ship ocean dumping — acidic fossil fuel waste, which accounts for over 90% of the volume of dumped wastewater. It also does not include onboard monitoring. The cruise sector has a long track record of criminal violations, including felony convictions in the U.S., and oversight is critical to ensure compliance.
“This Interim Order comes as a long-anticipated move to put the lid down on the BC cruise toilet bowl,” Stand.earth Canada Shipping Campaigner Anna Barford said. “Transport Canada is charting a better course for ocean protection, but there are still toxic waste streams accounting for over 30 billion litres of wastewater that need to be dealt with.”
Last year, Transport Canada announced that it was bringing in voluntary measures on greywater and sewage pollution. Over the summer, an Access to Information and Privacy Request obtained by National Observer revealed that Transport Canada planned to crack down on the acid dumping machine called scrubbers in 2022, but instead let the cruise ship industry talk them out of it.
Public support for ocean protection is overwhelming. In April, as the first cruise ship of the season docked in the Port of Vancouver, over 50,000 people signed and delivered a petition calling on Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to end cruise ship dumping. In February, Stand projected a video message onto Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge that called on Canada’s federal government to enact stronger regulations that protect marine life and coastal communities from ocean pollution, and also shared the video outside the Vancouver Convention Centre on the opening day of IMPAC5.
Over the last decade, the cruise ship industry on Canada’s West Coast has exploded. In 2019, more than one million passengers and crew from 30 different cruise ships visited the Victoria cruise terminal during 256 ship calls on their way to and from Alaska. During this time, the B.C coast was subjected to 32 billion litres of dumping of sewage, greywater, and acidic fossil fuel waste from scrubbers. These waste streams contain a variety of pollutants, including fecal coliform, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are extremely harmful to aquatic organisms and coastal ecosystems. Contaminants not only impact the health of the marine ecosystem, toxins can bioaccumulate to the food on our plates.
Municipalities have since joined the chorus of voices calling for a ban on scrubbers, with a unanimous motion at the September 2022 Union of BC Municipalities convention. Meanwhile, the cruise industry continues to present itself as an important economic driver behind Victoria’s tourism industry despite analysis revealing that economic benefits of non-cruise tourism dwarf those from cruise tourism.
“Canada is taking an important step to make cruise polluters responsible for pollution prevention, but an onboard observer program must be brought in to provide oversight and enforcement,” Barford said. “Carnival Corporation, the largest actor in the cruise sector, has multiple US federal felony convictions spanning decades for environmental crimes, including the falsification of data and records, using illegal bypass pipes to dump oily wastes, and repeated violations of the terms of their criminal probation. Until the cruise industry is put under the scrutiny of onboard observers, the mandatory nature of this important Interim Order will be undermined and the incentive to treat BC’s jurisdiction like a toilet bowl will be reduced but not eliminated.”
Stand is calling on Canada’s federal government to support coastal communities by banning the use of scrubbers in Canada’s waters and instituting a rigorous ship pollution oversight program.
Anna Barford, Canada Shipping Campaigner, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 604 757 7029
Cari Barcas, Communications Director, Stand.earth, email@example.com