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Cruise ships flushed more than a billion gallons of sewage into oceans again this year

Posted Dec. 4, 2014 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

Entire industry refuses to reveal environmental practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of sewage in the ocean this year, much of it raw or poorly treated, according to federal data analyzed by Friends of the Earth, which continues the call for stronger rules to protect oceans, coasts, sea life and people.

Friends of the Earth's 2014 Cruise Ship Report Card reveals that some of the 16 cruise lines graded are slowly getting greener; but more than 40 percent of the 167 ships still rely on 35-year-old waste treatment technology. Such antiquated treatment systems leave harmful levels of fecal matter, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants in the water. By law, wastewater dumped within three nautical miles of shore must be treated, but beyond that ships are allowed to dump raw sewage directly into the ocean. For this reason, the issue of accountability is paramount for the 2014 report card.

In a complete reversal from prior years of cooperation and transparency, all 16 major cruise lines refused -- through their industry association, Cruise Lines International Association -- to respond to Friends of the Earth’s requests for information on their pollution-reduction technologies. Therefore, the 2014 Cruise Ship Report card contains a new category: “Transparency” in which every cruise line received an “F” grade.

“By working to stifle the Cruise Ship Report Card, the industry attempted to shield itself from continued scrutiny of its environmental practices, and obscure data from conscientious consumers who would make different choices based on how a cruise ship or line performs on the report card,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans and vessels program director for Friends of the Earth.

"It's time for the cruise industry to stop trying to hide the dirty ships in its fleet," said Keever, whose report card is meant to draw attention to the environmental impact of the booming cruise industry and to help travelers choose the most environmentally-responsible cruises. A downloadable version of the Cruise Ship Report Card is available here.

Friends of the Earth's report card grades cruise lines on four criteria: sewage treatment technology; whether ships can plug into shore-based power and if they use cleaner fuel than required by U.S. and international law; compliance with Alaska's water quality regulations to protect the state's coast; and transparency which is a new criteria this year.

Disney Cruise Line, based in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., was ranked as the most environmentally responsible line, earning an A for sewage treatment. Its overall grade would have remained an A if it would have responded to our requests for information but this year it received a C+.

At the other end of the scale, Carnival Cruise Lines of Doral, Fla. -- which has the world's largest fleet of 24 cruise ships but only two with advanced sewage treatment technology -- received an F for sewage treatment again this year. Carnival Lines' parent company, Carnival Corp. & PLC of Miami and London, also operates six other lines graded by the report card and all seven lines were downgraded for refusal to respond to Friends of the Earth.

"As the industry leader, Carnival Corp. has to step up its environmental game throughout all of its different lines," said Keever. "No wonder Carnival Corp. refuses to respond to Friends of the Earth or be completely honest with its customers when it continues to use outdated technology that pollutes our oceans and threatens our marine ecosystem health, sea life and all of us."

The Environmental Protection Agency says an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day -- enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry -- a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew and the report card doesn't include the entire worldwide fleet. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much "graywater" from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

Cruise ships are also responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the dirty fuel they burn. Even at the dock, cruise ships often run dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew. According to the EPA, each day an average cruise ship is at sea it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars. Starting in 2015, cleaner fuel standards in the U.S. and Canada will reduce the amount of sulfur emitted by each ship about 97 percent and the amount of soot by 85 percent, in addition to the interim cleaner fuel standards already in place in North America.

"This is an industry worth billions of dollars that could install the most advanced sewage treatment and air pollution reduction technology available," said Keever. "We're encouraged that some cruise lines are taking incremental steps to improve their performance, but the entire industry must stop hiding behind weak regulations and take action to make sure the oceans their ships travel remain as clear as the photos in cruise brochures. Unfortunately this year the industry decided to take several steps backwards and refused to respond to our requests for information."

Note to editors:
To see report cards from past years and to learn more about the effects of cruise ship pollution on our marine and coastal environments, visit our website.


Expert Contact: Marcie Keever, (415) 999-3992,
Communications Contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744,

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