From her office window overlooking Juneau Harbor, Michele Brown surveys a slice of what could be Alaska's third-largest city--not Juneau itself, but a cruise ship fleet. The industry brought 640,000 travelers to Alaska last year, compared with 200,000 a decade ago.
But Brown, the state's environmental conservation chief, says it also brings something else--water pollution.
Cruise ships were suspected of polluting Alaska's waters 26 times in the last nine years, according to an Associated Press computer-assisted analysis of marine pollution records. That was second only to Florida, where it happened 60 times, the records show.
The AP compiled the numbers by crossing a list of 238 cruise ship identification numbers with a Coast Guard database that included both proven and alleged pollution incidents. The comparison showed cruise ships were suspected of causing 172 spills from 1991 through Dec. 31, 2000.
That is only a small fraction of the 194,075 cases recorded for all marine polluters, and compared to the millions of gallons of oil sometimes spilled from tankers, the pollution from cruise ships is relatively small. The AP analysis showed that even tugboats, fishing vessels and passenger craft other than cruise ships were responsible for far more pollution.
Nevertheless, pollution from cruise ships has become a major target of environmentally concerned lawmakers and lobbyists since 1999, when the U.S. Justice Department settled the second of two multimillion-dollar cases against Royal Caribbean Cruises, a company that admitted polluting repeatedly and lying to the Coast Guard about it.
Subsequent inquiries by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Environmental Protection Agency and Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation have driven cruise companies into a legal and public relations fight to preserve their "Love Boat" image.
Most cruise ship pollution cases are minor and accidental, says Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, which represents the $15.5-billion cruise industry. Overall, he said, the industry is performing well.
One-third of the fleet--68 cruise ships--accounted for the bulk of the cases in the Coast Guard records. Some of the findings:
* 16,000 pounds of garbage dumped by a ship called the Ecstasy in 1992.
* 2,000 gallons of fuel oil by the Oceanic in 1993.
* 200 gallons of oil by the Big Red Boat II in 1997.
The Texas Treasure, a gambling boat that sails the Gulf of Mexico, was cited more than any other cruise vessel--nine times in nine years. The Oceanic, a 1,100-passenger ship formerly run by Premiere Cruise Line, was cited five times; and the Britanis, an aging vessel that has since been retired, was also cited five times.
The records show that pollution from cruise ships has included oil, hydraulic fluid, plastic and small amounts of paint, food and chemicals.
Step aboard the Grand Princess in Fort Lauderdale and fantasy comes alive. It's picture perfect, from the blue sea-witch logo atop the smokestacks to the captain's white shoes.
Rain? A dome encases the swimming pool.
Hours before setting sail for the eastern Caribbean, guests wander to Horizon Court, a 24-hour eatery, to fill their plates with cantaloupe, scallops and pineapple. But what happens to the leftovers? And what about the sewage produced by 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew?
A decade ago, few thought about it. Then, on Oct. 25, 1994, a Coast Guard jet spotted a shimmering slick behind what was then the world's largest cruise ship--Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas.
When inspectors boarded her in San Juan harbor, ship officers denied discharging anything. But over the next four years, federal investigators discovered Royal Caribbean engineers routinely bypassed pollution controls to dump waste into the sea.
Sometimes, according to prosecutors, crew members falsified records in what they called their "fairy-tale books."
This was supposed to save the company money. It wound up costing $18 million in fines.
"The industry certainly did some things--and Royal Caribbean particularly did some things--that certainly were not right," says Nancy Wheatley, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president for safety and the environment.
But that was long ago, she said.
Today, Royal Caribbean distributes an environmental report that touts "a vacation resort, complete with infrastructure." A tidy blue and green graphic shows how the ship's waste gets recycled or incinerated for disposal on land.
Princess supplies cardboard shampoo and lotion bottles rather than plastic ones, and offers guests the option of reusing towels.
"It's a different business than the seagoing voyages of old," says Tom Dow, vice president of public affairs for Princess.
Even the Coast Guard recognizes a cruise company turnaround.