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Ships Accused of Fouling Coast

Environment: Suit claims cruise lines illegally dump ballast water, imperiling environment.

April 25, 2002|GARY POLAKOVIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four environmental groups filed suit on Wednesday charging that luxury cruise liners are illegally discharging ballast water that could damage plant and animal life along the California coast.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, says the water sometimes contains exotic organisms that pose a threat to native flora and fauna. Cruise ships take on the water in foreign ports to maintain stability on the high seas and unload it elsewhere. California enacted a law two years ago prohibiting dumping of ballast water along its coast.

"Cruise lines must stop fouling California's waters in the name of good times and big profits," said Teri Shore of the Bluewater Network in San Francisco, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

The suit alleges that five major cruise companies have committed almost 500 ballast water violations along the California coast since last summer. The violations allegedly occurred at ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

"The state pays a huge cost after these giant vessels dump untreated ballast water into our ports without concern or penalty," said Jim Wheaton, of the Environmental Law Foundation in Oakland. "It allows invasive aquatic species to take hold, ruining fisheries and upsetting native ecosystems."

Los Angeles and Long Beach are major cruise ship ports of call. About 400 ships arrive to pick up 1 million passengers a year for trips to Mexico, Canada and Alaska, according to the Marine Exchange of Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor.

The companies named in the lawsuit are Carnival Corp., P & O Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. Ships from those companies have made 698 trips into California waters since January 2000, incurring 435 ballast water discharge violations from the State Lands Commission, according to the lawsuit.

Representatives of the cruise companies could not be reached or declined to comment.

Exotic species entering the United States pose a significant environmental problem. Once turned loose here, they often have few competitors or predators and can take over waterways, disrupting native ecosystems and creating havoc for harbors and water treatment and delivery systems.

More than 230 nonnative plant and animal species have been established in the San Francisco Bay and Delta. Control of these species costs the nation millions of dollars a year.

The groups Bluewater Network, Environmental Law Foundation, San Diego Baykeeper and the Surfrider Foundation filed the suit.

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