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News|19 Jul, 2011

Baltic Sea Waste Ban Delayed – Urgent Upgrades of Baltic Sea Ports Needed

Waste water released from cruise ships and other vessels discharge hundreds of tons of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Baltic each year, contributing to large-scale toxic algae blooms and a reduction of water quality.

WWF is disappointed with the decision taken on Friday by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to delay the ban on the discharge of sewage from ferries and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea – something WWF has been working to secure for many years. Additionally, this ban will prove difficult to come into effect as many Baltic Ports are ill-equipped to receive this ship waste. As a result, the Baltic Sea continues to be a dumping ground for ship waste discharges.

Already last year, the IMO took a provisional decision to ban the discharge of sewage from ferries and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea from 2013 for all new ships and from 2018 for all ships, when sufficient port reception facilities are available. This decision was taken due to environmental concerns as ship-waste discharges include excess nutrients which add to the problem of eutrophication. Unfortunately, the final IMO decision revised the date for new ships to 2016. Furthermore, the new requirements will only go into effect once sufficient port reception facilities are made available. Today only a fraction of the ports around the Baltic Sea can meet the demands of the cruise industry to receive their ship waste discharges.

“Safeguarding the health of the Baltic Sea is a shared responsibility for both the Cruise Industry and for cities and countries via their port authorities. It is therefore disappointing that final IMO decision further delayed the timeline for the ban to come into effect. The Cruise Industry, Baltic Sea countries and their port authorities must show greater responsibility and leadership by making the necessary upgrades to passenger ships as well as port waste management facilities to avoid ships dumping directly out at sea,” says Mattias Rust, Conservation Officer, Baltic Sea, WWF Sweden.

The Baltic Sea region is an attractive and fast growing destination for tourists representing roughly three million cruise passengers visiting the region each year. With the cruise season now in full swing for the summer only a fraction of the Baltic ports are equipped to receive the large amounts of ship waste generated by these passenger ships in a satisfactory manner. WWF calls upon the Cruise Industry and the communities hosting them to take their joint responsibility to avoid dumping of sewage directly in the sea.

“By continuing a business-as-usual attitude the Cruise Industry as well as the cities hosting them, are profiting while at the same time contributing to a problem which negatively affects the very environment which is attracting these visitors to the Baltic Sea,” says Mattias Rust, Conservation Officer, Baltic Sea, WWF Sweden.

The Baltic port authorities and coastal municipalities are making a good profit from the cruise ships docking at their national ports. The European Cruise Council (ECC) estimates that each average passenger spends just over 100 EURO in every port they visit , generating large revenues to the coastal port communities. By failing to provide adequate port reception facilities communities are contributing to the problem of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.

‘Considering the enormous financial win Baltic Ports receive from ever-increasing passenger ship traffic, they have a duty and responsibility to invest in the needed upgrades to their port reception facilities to receive ship waste so that the IMO ban can come into effect. Without this, the Baltic Sea will continue to be a dumping ground for excess nutrients, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.’ says Mattias Rust, Conservation Officer, Baltic Sea, WWF Sweden.

  • Eutrophication, or nutrient pollution, has been identified as the single biggest threat to the health of the Baltic Sea. The most visible symptom of the excessive inputs of nutrients is the algal blooms that plague large areas of the Baltic Sea during summers causing both biological and economic damage to marine environment and coastal areas. Eutrophication is caused by an overload of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, into the ecosystem.
  • On Friday, July 15, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) formally adopted their preliminary decision taken in October, 2010 to make the dumping of waste water illegal in the Baltic Sea. They changed the date of this however, to apply from 2016 (instead of 2013) for all new ships and from 2018 for all ships, when sufficient port reception facilities are available.
  • The Cooperation Platform on Port Reception Facilities for Sewage in the Baltic Sea is a special working group designated to develop criteria for “adequate port reception facilities” and in charge of building “ a common understanding on technical and operational aspects of sewage delivery to meet the needs of ports and shipping industry and in dialogue with municipalities and based on it to develop, if possible, a joint guidance or present the views of the involved stakeholders” (HELCOM MARITIME 10/2010).
  • The cruise industry is a rapidly growing industry. In the last ten years, the numbers of cruise passengers in the Baltic Sea region has tripled and now amounts to over 3 million. In total, the Baltic Sea receives more than 350 cruise ship visits with over 2,100 port calls each year and the numbers are rapidly growing. The waste-water produced in these vessels is estimated to contain 365 tons of nitrogen and 119 tons of phosphorus . Most of this sewage is today discharged into the Baltic Sea, adding to the eutrophication of the sea.
  • In 2009 the European Cruise Council, a cruise-liner organization in Europe, announced its commitment to cease the discharge of waste water in the Baltic Sea if “adequate port reception facilities which operate under a ‘no special fee’ will be made available. In 2009 ECC members stated that they considered port reception facilities to be adequate where a port can receive all waste water effluent via direct line/shoreside pipe connection at its cruise berth which can then be effectively treated at the municipal waste water treatment plant. Unfortunately, as of 2009, there were only three out of more than 20 cruise ships ports around the Baltic Sea, Helsinki, Stockholm and Visby, that met the ECC’s conditions

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