Alaska's Governor Suspends Funding for Cruise Ship Monitors

The Holland America vessel Eurodam at Glacier Bay, Alaska (file image courtesy Holland America)

By The Maritime Executive 07-04-2019 06:57:32

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has vetoed funding for a long-running program that employs American marine engineers as monitors aboard the foreign-flag cruise ships that transit Alaskan waters. 

The operation - known as Ocean Rangers - is similar in concept to NOAA' fishery observer program, which places paid monitors aboard fishing vessels to ensure compliance. Under Ocean Rangers, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed marine engineers have been riding large cruise ships in Alaska since 2006, when state residents voted for a ballot measure to create the program. It is funded by a $4-per-head fee levied on cruise passengers; as the fee is required by state law and is dedicated to Ocean Rangers, it will still be charged, and the veto will have no effect on either the state's finances or on cruise pricing. The money collected cannot be spent elsewhere, according to Alaska Public Media.  

The head of the cruise ship program at Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation has described the Ocean Rangers as "a critical part in our permitting process," and reports filed by the program's monitors have led to multiple violation charges over the past decade. However, the appointed chief of the department has argued that cruise ships should not face higher regulatory scrutiny than other industries.

The governor's decision to reduce monitoring comes shortly after Carnival Corporation agreed to pay an additional $20 million fine related to a new series of MARPOL violations. These new breaches allegedly violated Carnival's existing environmental probation agreement, part of a $40 million plea deal that Carnival signed in 2017. In that deal - the largest deliberate vessel pollution fine in history - Princess Cruises pleaded guilty to seven felony charges related to the discharge of oily bilge water.

In March 2019, Carnival's probation officer moved to revoke the company's probationary status after a court-appointed monitor found cases of Carnival ships continuing to violate environmental laws. The monitor's report for the first year of the company's probation described 24 instances of illegally dumping sewage, food waste or oil and 19 instances of burning heavy fuel oil in protected areas, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald. One of the discharges cited was the alleged release of 26,000 gallons gray water within Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park, a violation of regulations.