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Proper Disposal of Waste in the Ocean from Cruise Ships?

Please inform procedure on how we should dump garbage created on the ship without affecting the fishes and sea life.

Recently I had an opportunity to go on a cruise(NCP) and found the garbage was completely dumped in the sea for marine life. Dancers threw the butt of their cigarettes in the Sea. Was concerned for the fishes & ocean health,  as I have a beautiful gold fish in our fish tank.

Awaiting your answer.

Dhanvin R.Barot




Dear Dhanvin R.Barot,

Disposal of waste in the Oceans is a serious problem. With cruise ships this is more acute as such ships have a large number of passengers and invariably visit areas of natural beauty/ wild ecosystems.

Guidelines on disposal of waste from ships vary greatly from country to country. The US for example allows discharge of untreated waste water from ships only beyond 12 miles from the shore. As a rule, non biodegradable waste and waste that is slow to degrade such as cardboard/paper should never be dumped at sea, irrespective of location.

Kitchen waste and food scraps are relatively innocuous but even this must not be disposed within or near marine protected areas and areas of high fisheries value, pristine natural beauty, rich in biodiversity etc (coral reefs, ecosystems such as the A&N islands, Lakshadweep etc).

Cruise ships must store and bring back to land all non-biodegradable waste, paper, cardboard, plastic, styrofoam, metal etc.

Waste water from washing, toilets etc should be treated and then discharged beyond 12 miles from the coast, and not in eco-sensitive areas.

Common trash such as cigarette butts, wrappers etc should also not be dumped into the sea.

Kitchen waste should ideally be stored and composted on board the ship, as cruise ships are large enough to make provision for such facilities.

I hope this helps.


Ashish Fernandes
Ocean Campaigner
Greenpeace India
Bangalore - 560025


Dear Dhanvin R.Barot

Although cruise industry accounts for only 12% of the world’s shipping fleet, greater public attention has been paid to the environmental impacts of that industry owing to high visibility of its ships, high annual growth of around 8% and the desire of the industry to promote a positive image. Cruises hosted over 11.5 million passengers in over 230 ships in 2005 with the US ports handling 75% of them in 95% ships belonging to other countries.

The cruise industry is a significant and growing contributor to the U.S. economy, providing more than $32 billion in total benefits annually and generating more than 330,000 U.S. jobs. The average size of ships entering the market now are over 320 m long and weigh more than 130,000 tons. A large cruise ship carries over 5000 passengers and crew and is often called a floating city.

In one week, such a ship generates 210 thousand gallons of black water (sewage), one million gallons of grey water (shower, sink and dishwashing water), 37 thousand gallons of oily bilge water, over eight tons of solid waste (food waste, glass, plastic and metal), millions of gallons of ballast water containing potential invasive species and toxic wastes from dry cleaning and photo processing laboratories, and fuel emissions that cause air pollution.

The pollutants very often occur as streams along the course of the cruise ship. This pollution threatens fish populations, marine life and destruction of coral reefs (the most endangered ecosystem on the earth), besides contributing to public health concerns along the coast.

Of all the world countries, the United States finds maximum need to restrict cruise ship discharges through the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. The cruise industry has also voluntarily undertaken initiatives to improve pollution prevention, by adopting waste management guidelines and procedures and researching new technologies. The U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have principal regulatory and standard-setting responsibilities in the creation of adequate laws and regulations, research activities and enforcement of existing requirements.

Pollution control for the cruise ship industry is regulated by the MARPOL Protocol, an international convention for the prevention of marine pollution generated from all ships. Ocean dumping of waste is controlled by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Materials.

Under the provisions of the Convention, the United States can take direct enforcement action under US laws against US and foreign-flagged ships when pollution discharge incidents occur within the US jurisdiction. When incidents occur outside the US jurisdiction, the cases are referred to the concerned countries, in accordance with MARPOL. The response is however rather poor.

The efforts of the cruise ship industry and governments to water pollution gathered momentum at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. This attention helped to propel pollution control and environmental education as growing global priorities.

Since the UNCED, there has been increased pressure on the cruise ship industry to create and adhere to more ecologically-sound operating standards. Largely under pressure from environmentalists and regulatory agencies, suppliers to the shipping association (including companies with recycling, advanced incineration, sorting and storage equipment) are actively testing products with the potential to make the cruise business cleaner and less damaging to oceans and sensitive coastal ecosystems. The industry may, in fact, benefit through increased growth because of anti-pollution technologies.

In response to a petition by 53 environmental advocacy groups in 2000, the EPA released a draft cruise ship discharge assessment report in December 2007 with assurance to issue a completed report by the end of 2008 to identify a range of options and alternatives to address cruise ship waste streams.

Cruise ships may be inclined to deal with the waste problems by agreeing to what is termed as "Zero Discharge". Adopting this alternative is fundamentally not attractive to cruise ship companies as it would require converting critical guest room space into storage or holding units. A zero discharge policy would also increase the space needed in ports for reception and storage facilities for which the concurrence of the concerned countries is required.

It may be of interest to you to know that even cruise ship passengers can act to prevent illegal discharge of waste into the ocean by the ship management and at the same time benefit from the such an act. A recent suit against Princess Cruises of Great Britain resulted in a $250,000 award to cruise passengers who witnessed and video-taped a trail of plastic garbage bags dumped into the sea. This success should put pressure on the cruise ship industry to improve its waste management standards.

When you travel next time in a cruise ship, remember that as a responsive ship passenger you can play a proactive role against any illegal dumping of pollutants by your ship into the sea and thereby contribute your might to the life and health of the sea.

Best wishes,

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao
Retired Professor of Geology
Sri Venkateswara University
Tirupati, AP 517502

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao, Professor of Geology Retired, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, AP 517502, India


Garbage can consist of food and hazardous chemicals(in-organics and toxic organics). Fish require food with high ratio of food/pollutants.

If garbage is out of human food canteen, this ratio will be good for fish.

But spoilt food(particularly nonveg) will be hazardous for fish and ocean.

Similarly raw sewage is good for fish, but not the treated sewage that looks clean, has no odour because there is no food left to sound the alarms. If sewage treatment stops at BOD and COD reduction, the food/pollutant ratio reduces, actually. Such mis-treated sewage breeds malaria mosquitoes, hence not suitable for fish.

Ship is a big industry and care should be taken to prevent oil and fuel from leaking into the sea.


Dr Uday Bhawalkar

Director R&D

Bhawalkar Ecological Research Institute (BERI), Pune


The very first step should be to spread awareness through display of posters on ships, conveying the message that throwing of garbage is harmful to aquatic life and is also harmful to human being and degrades the beauty of water body/ocean. Proper waste management on ships is an important aspect and will have a big impact towards protecting the environmental integrity of the island and their costal and marine systems.

Pamphlets on alerting people to be cautious on throwing of waste during voyage should be prepared and distributed to people at the time of boarding the ship.

Another thing that can be done is announcement can be made at regular intervals during voyage.

Waste bins should be provided on the ship at convenient and accessible places for waste collection (preferably dry and wet). Directions/indications towards the bin should be displayed for effectiveness Cleanliness/hygienic conditions should be maintained in and around the bins. The bins should be emptied every time the ship returns to dock/port, the waste should be subjected to appropriate processing depending upon its characteristics.

The staff/crew on the ship should practice the same which will make other people learn and should be vigilant to look after any misconduct of throwing waste here and there or in water body.

I hope the above will be helpful and will meet your query.

Dr. Amiya Kumar Sahu
National Solid Waste Association of India (NSWAI)
Mumbai-400 025


Dear Dhanvin R.Barot,

Passenger ships on International voyages must comply with all relevant International maritime Organisation (IMO) Regulations, including those in the SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea), 1974 & Load Lines Convention. There are no stringent rules to control the pollution that has been caused in the ocean. Pollution control for the Cruise ship industry is regulated by the MARPOL Protocol. Also ocean dumping of waste is controlled by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes & other Materials.

According to MARPOL-

1) It is illegal to discharge plastics or garbage containing plastics into any waters.

2) Within 3 nautical miles, it is illegal to dump any garbage in the ocean.

3) Within 3 to 12 nautical miles, vessels are allowed to discharge all garbage, except plastic, trash etc.

4) Within 12-25 nautical miles, vessels are not allowed to release plastic, dunnage, lining etc.

5) Outside 25 miles offshore, vessels can discharge all garbage except plastics.

6) Port states must provide adequate garbage reception facilities.

In General-

1) “Zero discharge" policy must be adopted by the Cruise ships.

2) If the waste is bio-degradable, if thrown into the sea will not affect the marine life. But if it is hazardous, pollutant & harmful, it should not be thrown to the ocean.

3) Common trash such as cigarettes etc should not be dumped into the sea.

4) All ships can legally discharge everything but not oil & plastic into the ocean.

5) Raw sewage can be dumped beyond 4 miles of shore.

6) Hazardous waste should not be mixed with other wastes.

7) Upgradation of waste treatment facilities on ships.

8) Ships can recycle & separate solid wastes for re-use on shore or its proper disposal.

The main principle followed by the cruise ships should be -reduction of waste, proper storage of it, maximize reuse & recycling & proper disposal.

With regards,

Savitha Jayakrishna
Student Counselor and Researcher
National Law School of India University (NLSIU)-ENVIS Centre
Centre for Environmental Law, Education, Research and Advocacy (CEERA)
Nagarbhavi, Bangalore-560 072


Dear Dhanvin,

Taking forward the response, wish to bring it to all concerned that we are least concerned about the goodness what the environment has been giving to us. Every moment we look at anything, we can observe that we humans have shown disregard to the natural resources and varied elements in nature.

Oceans are in the least concern, there is a subject under UN Charter studying in detail - "Marine pollution due to land based activities". This needs to be extended to Ocean-based activities also. There are stringent rules to be followed on board all stationary and moving ocean-going vessels. But the rules are to be broken as no policing or penalties are raised. Oceans are considered as waste-sinks.

India has a large coast-line and a lot of sea-going vessels are plying along the coast and also both coastal and ocean going navigation vessels-boats are plying all these pollute the seas and the coasts. We donot have any stringent mechanism to control all these polluting practices which are followed for the sake of convenience.

As a professional mariner, we have observed that all vessels either small boats or large ships used for cargo and passenger carriage, have systems in place for abating pollution effects on air- smoke, waste-related sewage, oil-spills, and others.

Periodicaly say annually and in 4-year period, Class Surveys are done and all these systems and the personnel are checked that they are of all well and operating procedures Etc are ship-shape. The inspecting Surveyors literally simulate most situations and have mock-drills also. But all these are done as it generally appears only for rule=compliance sake and in reality, the laid down procedures are not followed and all anti-pollution systems are on by pass.

Then it is obvious that we are leading ourselves to disaster. A very strong awakening is required. It can only happen, if right from school days, youth learn to put even a smallest piece of dirt, waste in our own pocket to be disposed off safely in proper places.

With wellwishes from VigyanVijay,

Er.Ajit Seshadri

Er. Ajit Seshadri,Head- Environment, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation


Dear Dhanvin R.Barot,

This is one question which people are struggling with for long...

The waste disposal on cruise liners depends on systems which are in place on board ship. This also depends on public awareness and infrastructure on board in passenger cruise liners.

I am enclosing some documents which might be of your interest.

But to have good waste management systems on ships it should work on prevention principal. Which means prevent unwanted items on board and secondly needs to have effective segregation of waste and littering on sea should be punishable offense.

Please see the attached documents and also visit the following links:

There are various guidelines prepared internationally which you can find on IMO (International maritime Organisation) and UNEP.

Alaska Cruising & the Environment
Alaska Cruising & the Environment

Malita - Passenger Ships
Malita - Passenger Ships

Best regards

Prashant Pastore
Sr. Programme Coordinator
Toxics Link
New Delhi


Dear Dhanvin R.Barot,

The biodegradable waste (left our food, paper etc) can be thrown in the sea, but the rest (plastic, metal, and glass) must be collected and brought to the shore for disposal / recycling or burnt in the incinerator on the ship.


Rahul Sharma
Scientist F
Marine Mining – Environmental Impact
Geological Oceanography
National Institute of Oceanography


Dear Dhanvin R.Barot,

Garbage is mainly the unwanted or undesired substance or materials which are not useful. If the garbage is composing of only organic material (kitchen waste, organic waste which does not contain any chemical) this waste dumping will not affect the lives of fishes and sea creatures and use as a food for the sea creatures.

But if garbage contain plastic, metal, paint sludge, oily sludge, asbestos, glasswool, chemicals and any other inherit material this will affect the whole life of sea animals. This type of garbage is properly treatment and dispose in the secure landfills and not thrown in the sea in any way.


Shailendra Jaiswal
Gujarat Enviro Protection and Infrastructure Limited (GEPIL)
Alang, Bhavnagar

10. Disposal of organic and inert garbage

Garbage is mainly unwanted or undesired substance or materials. If the garbage is composed of only organic material, (kitchen waste, organic waste which does not contain any chemical) this waste will not affect the lives of fishes and sea creatures and may also be used as food for the sea creatures.

But if it contains plastic, metal, paint sludge, oily sludge, asbestos, glass wool, chemicals or any other inert material this will affect sea creatures. This type of garbage should be properly treated and should be disposed in secure landfills and not thrown in the sea under any circumstance.

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