West Coast Reacts: Transport Canada introduces new measures to reduce cruise ship pollution

Mandatory measures are welcome, but more action needed to close loopholes and address scrubber washwater

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories/VANCOUVER - Today, the Minister of Transport announced that Transport Canada has issued an interim order imposing greater restrictions on dumping from cruise ships in Canadian waters. 

West Coast Environmental Law welcomes these enhanced measures but has concerns about the potentially broad loopholes within the order that may make it hard to enforce. Lawyers also note that the order does not address the largest source of cruise ship pollution, scrubber washwater. 

“We and many others have been calling for strong, mandatory measures to reduce cruise ship pollution for years, and we are glad to see some progress with the introduction of this interim order. However, we worry that gaps and loopholes in the regulations could allow cruise ships to continue dumping harmful waste in waters along the west coast, including some of the most pristine and ecologically sensitive areas,” said Michael Bissonnette, Staff Lawyer.

In 2021, West Coast published a report with Stand.earth that showed that Canadian regulations regarding cruise ship pollution were much weaker than regulations in Washington State and Alaska. These lax regulations incentivize cruise ships travelling to and from Alaska to dump their pollution in Canadian waters. 

In response to the report, Transport Canada worked with the cruise ship industry to develop voluntary measures to reduce cruise ship discharges in Canadian waters for the 2022 cruise ship season, and these voluntary measures were recently renewed for 2023

The Minister of Transport’s new interim order finally makes these measures mandatory. The order prohibits cruise ships from dumping greywater or sewage within three nautical miles of shore. The order also further strengthens the restrictions on greywater discharge by requiring cruise ships to use a marine sanitation device in order to dump greywater within 12 nautical miles of shore.

However, the order allows for some potentially broad exceptions (or loopholes) to the prohibition on dumping within three nautical miles of shore. First, if the ship is in an area where the distance between any shore is less than six nautical miles and the ship is not fitted with a holding tank that has an adequate volume for the ship’s voyage, the ship can dump within three nautical miles of shore using a marine sanitation device. Second, a cruise ship is allowed to dump greywater and sewage within three miles of shore using a marine sanitation device if there are no onshore reception facilities available during the intended voyage.

“We are concerned that these loopholes could allow cruise ships to continue to dump waste close to shore in sensitive coastal areas. For example, in the Great Bear Sea, where Canada’s first marine protected area network is being implemented, there are many narrow passage ways and remote areas where the loopholes in this order may permit cruise ships to dump close to shore. We also worry that because Canada does not require third party monitors on vessels to observe, it will be very difficult to enforce this order, especially in remote areas,” said Bissonnette.

Lastly, lawyers emphasize that the order fails to address the largest (in volume) source of marine pollution from cruise ships, which is scrubber washwater. A WWF Canada report found that scrubber washwater accounted for 97% the volume of all waste produced by ships in Canada.

West Coast will continue to advocate for stronger regulations that address the gaps in the current order and ensure robust protection for coastal ecosystems from vessel pollution.


For more information, please contact:

Michael Bissonnette | Staff Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
604-684-7378 ext. 233,  mbissonnette@wcel.org