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The cost of cruising

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Waste incinerated on board pose two problems. First, incinerator ash can be dumped into the ocean as long as the ship is beyond four miles from shore in Canada. This is contrary to recommendations from the International Maritime Commission saying that incinerator ash should be landed ashore given the constituents of the ash. Second, the air emissions from incinerators can contain furans and dioxins, both found to be carcinogenic, as well as heavy metal and other toxic residues. The Canadian government has specifications for on board incinerators, but there are no regulations regarding where these incinerators may operate, and there is limited if any enforcement of the specifications. 

Another serious issue regarding cruise ship waste is air emissions from engines. This will be addressed by the North American Emission Control Area, recently approved by the International Maritime Organization, which will come into effect in 2015. At that point, ships will not be permitted to burn fuel of 0.1 percent sulphur content in Canadian and U.S. territorial waters. However, until then ships transiting the Inside Passage normally burn fuel of 1.8 percent sulphur content. This dirtier fuel negatively impacts the environment and has serious implications for human health. According to the U.S. EPA, “The sulfur, particulate emissions and other harmful pollutants from large ships reach from our ports to communities hundreds of miles inland — bringing with them health, environmental and economic burdens. Cleaning up our shipping lanes will be a boon to communities across North America.” 

The polluting waste streams from cruise ships is one issue. However, equally serious is that the Government of Canada has lower thresholds and is less vigilant in enforcing the regulations in place than are either Alaska or Washington. While Alaska has levied fines for more than 120 violations of air emission and water discharge standards over the past two years, and while Washington state has stringent regulations and enforcement, Canada appears to be unconcerned about cruise ship waste. No cruise ships have been fined for environmental violations by the Government of Canada. Are we to believe that ships caught violating laws in Washington and Alaska are abiding by Canadian regulations?

Moral Dilemmas Associated with Cruise Tourism
Aside from economic and environmental issues, there are moral issues that concern some cruise passengers and cruise critics. One of these issues relates to those who work on cruise ships – an issue brought to the forefront by social action campaigns by Vancouver-based Pirates of Justice. The issue is that cruise ships employ many workers from developing countries, at wages that may be reasonable by their home country standards but quite low by standards in North America. Most cruise ship workers have a mandatory 77 hour work week. They have no days off, and their contracts can run from three or four months for officers, to six or seven months for European workers, to eleven or twelve months for workers from Asia or Latin America. Salaries also vary widely depending on the worker’s country of origin and work role. While service personnel (waiters and room stewards) may earn a reasonable income – as much as $1500 a month including gratuities – others earn considerably less; in many cases $500 a month or less. It isn’t only long hours for low pay, but the living conditions of crew members provide little privacy, and the food served is often limited and does not include sufficient fresh fruits and vegetables. Some cruise lines allocate 50 percent less per person for the crew member’s food budget than for the passenger budget – as low as $5 or $6 a day. 

A second moral issue has to do with crime aboard issues, particularly sexual assaults. The rate of sexual assault and sexual harassment on Royal Caribbean International’s ships in the period 2003 – 2005 was approximately 50 percent higher than the rate in Canada. The rate of sexual assault on Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships from October 2007 - October 2008 similarly was 50 percent higher than the rate in Canada. These assaults were perpetrated by crew members as well as by passengers, and the victims were both crew members and passengers. It is astonishing that more than 17.5 percent of the sexual assault victims were minors – children under the age of 18. While Royal Caribbean International appears to have improved its record between 2003 – 2005 and 2007 – 2008, the problem still exists. Passengers need to be aware that cruise ships are not as safe as purported to be, and that they (and their children) need to take the same precautions on board a ship as they do in any major city. 

What Should Be Done?
Cruise tourism is a benefit to the Vancouver economy, however its value is considerably less today than it was a decade ago. While the cruise corporations are generating ever larger profits – Carnival Corporation earns more than $2.25 billion per year in net profits and pays virtually no corporate income tax in the U.S. or Canada – ports such as Vancouver see less and less economic benefit. At the same time, the city and surrounding region must grapple with cruise ship pollution (as well as people pollution/crowding from the volume of embarking and disembarking cruise passengers) and with social issues and problems associated with cruise tourism. City officials and citizens need to be more attentive to the benefits and the costs, and they should be more proactive in protecting their economic, environmental, and other interests.

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