WWF initially contacted ferry lines and cruise ship companies sailing in the Baltic Sea two years ago, asking for a voluntary ban on waste water discharge. That same year, most of the ferry lines responded positively.
In May, many cruise lines, through their umbrella organization, the European Cruise Council (ECC), made a voluntary commitment to stop dumping their waste water in the Baltic Sea 'when certain conditions are met'. These conditions included 'adequate port reception facilities which operate under a ‘no special fee' agreement'.
WWF also is working within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to push for stronger regulations, which currently allow the discharge of ship waste to international waters. In a paper submitted this week to the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee, WWF urges the IMO to strengthen its regulations regarding the discharge of ship waste in eutrophied semi-closed or closed waters, such as the Baltic.
The Baltic Sea will receive more than 350 cruise ship visits with more than 2,100 port calls this year and the industry is growing by an estimated 13% per year.
The waste-water produced in these vessels is estimated to contain 74 tons of nitrogen and 18 tons of phosphorus, substances that add to eutrophication. In addition to excess nutrients, the waste water also contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, as well as heavy metals.
The European cruise industry generated a massive 14.2 billion euros in direct expenditure by cruise liners and their passengers in 2008, a large part of this in the Baltic Sea. The normal sewage storage capacity for a cruise ship is between one and three days which forces the ships to continue dumping the waste water into the sea.
Eutrophication is considered by many the main environmental problem of the Baltic Sea, causing both biological and economic damage to marine environment and coastal areas. It is caused by an overload of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, into the ecosystem. Severe effects include unusually strong and frequent summertime algae blooms such as the toxic cyanobacteria.