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News|07 Nov, 2014

Baltic Sea Waste Ban Stalls as Countries Propose Postponement

Cruiseship
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.
Baltic Sea countries propose further delays in banning the dumping of sewage from cruise and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea. In 2010 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) took a welcome decision to ban the discharge of sewage from cruise and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea – with the requirement that it would only go into effect once sufficient port reception facilities were made available. Baltic Sea countries have thus been required to report back on their capacity to receive this waste.

In 2010 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) took a welcome decision to ban the discharge of sewage from cruise and passenger ships in the Baltic Sea – with the requirement that it would only go into effect once sufficient port reception facilities were made available. Baltic Sea countries have thus been required to report back on their capacity to receive this waste.

This ban is something WWF has worked to secure for many years, as the excess nutrients in the waste water is contributing to the serious problem of eutrophication.

During a working group meeting this week of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) in Riga, almost five years after this decision in IMO, Germany, Poland and Russia were not ready to report back to the IMO regarding their capacity to receive this waste water, effectively delaying the ban. If the ban is deferred it means that cruise ships and ferries will be able to continue to discharge their wastewater in the Baltic Sea – perhaps with no end date.

“Baltic Sea countries have had five years to make the necessary upgrades to port reception facilities and waste management treatment facilities to avoid ships legally dumping untreated sewage water directly in the sea. It is therefore deeply disappointing that countries are now proposing a further delay in the implementation of this ban. The states and their port authorities should take immediate action to secure the prerequisites for the ban on waste water discharge, in order to meet their obligations, and demonstrate their commitment to a healthy Baltic Sea.” says Mattias Rust, Conservation Officer, Baltic Sea, WWF Sweden.

One of the challenges of upgrading port facilities relates to the large amount of sewage that cruise ships need to pump ashore during a limited time – up to 300m3 of waste water per hour during their visit to the port (which is roughly equivalent to the volume of water in an Olympic swimming pool).  The ports have had difficulty handling this volume and in some cases even the treatment plants of the port city find it challenging to receive.

“Pipes, pumping capacity and water – this isn’t rocket science but it is not prioritized enough, which is very unfortunate.  Unless action is taken now, untreated sewage discharges in the Baltic Sea may continue for quite some time,” says Mattias Rust.

The Baltic Countries, port cities and coastal municipalities are making a good profit from the cruise ships docking at their ports. Reports from both ports and the cruise industry estimate that each average passenger spends just over 100 EURO in every port they visit, generating large revenues to coastal port communities. In Stockholm alone, this is estimated to be in the range of several hundred million euros/year.

“By failing to address the challenges concerning sewage discharges, the cruise and passenger industry, as well as the cities hosting them, will continue to profit from tourism while at the same time contributing to a problem which negatively affects the very environment attracting these visitors to the Baltic Sea, as well as the environment for the people living around the Baltic. Quite simply, this is unacceptable,” says Mattias Rust.

Eutrophication is one of the biggest threats facing the Baltic Sea. Waste water discharges from ships include excess nutrients which add to the problem of eutrophication as well as bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, and in some cases heavy metals. While passenger traffic represents a relatively small portion of the total nutrient load, much of the discharges are concentrated in the summer months when algae blooms are the worst. In addition, the traffic is growing every year and contributes unnecessarily to the Baltic Sea nutrient load.

WWF has been advocating a ban for almost ten years. According to the “roadmap” of the Baltic Sea countries, the final decision regarding the Ban’s implementation would be taken this year. The proposal is now to postpone this decision further and it is not yet decided for how long. The last chance this year to get a deadline for the ban’s implementation is when the Baltic Sea countries meet again during HELCOM’s ‘Heads of Delegation’ meeting in the middle of December. If that fails, the decision on prohibiting wastewater discharge in the Baltic Sea may be postponed indefinitely.

“WWF urges all Baltic Sea countries to ensure they secure adequate port reception facilities and to agree upon a fixed date for the ban on waste water discharges to take effect in the immediate future – something they still have the possibility to do in December,” says Mattias Rust.

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Last modified 22/11/19

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