Nightmare At Sea: Triumph’s Return Reveals Cruise Industry’s Dirty Secret

carnival cruise triumph deck

Even before the passengers of the ill-fated cruise ship Triumph finally set foot on land, stories about the horrific conditions on board began to come to light. When the 4,000 plus passengers set sail just eight days before, they had no idea that their luxury cruise would turn into a nightmare, complete with raw sewage sloshing around on the floors and streaming down the walls. It exposes the dirty secret of these huge vessels – all of that excess has its consequences. The result is that very little of the refuse that’s created is dealt with in an environmentally responsible way.

First clues of the impending disaster came on Sunday after smoke was seen billowing from the ship’s huge smoke stacks. The ship’s four engines were knocked offline after fire made all of them inoperable. The trip began in Galveston, Texas last week Thursday with about 3,100 passengers. It made its way to its destination port of Progreso, Mexico, which is on the Yucatan Peninsula. Once it had completed its docking in Progreso, it picked up additional passengers, and then began its trip back to Texas. The fire broke out when the ship was 150 miles out at sea. Only now are the stories, videos and pictures coming out.

The photo above shows the sleeping conditions for some who chose to sleep on deck. Those who chose the outdoor accommodations did so due to lack of air conditioning, and the stench of human waste that was wafting from lower decks where sewage was said to be floating on the floor and streaming down the walls. Sewage described by one of the ship’s passengers was captured on video. You can see it dripping down the walls of one of the ship’s elevators.

What most people don’t know is that the non-working toilets was only part of the problem. The real problem is that even if the toilets were working, the ship was unable to do anything with it once the toilets flushed. Once the toilets stopped working, passengers were asked to use red plastic bags for their solid waste. While it is contained, most have no idea where those bags go. Unlike large RVs which must carry the human waste until it’s able to properly hook it up to a septic system, cruise ships are allowed to dump the waste into the ocean. Some ships partially treat the sewage, but others do not. It depends upon where the ships are located, but many allow the dumping to take place a few miles out from public areas. They are also dump solid garbage overboard. While most no longer do this, some still disregard good stewardship to the environment.

Back in August 2012 residents of Nahant, Massachusetts found evidence of probable illegal cruise ship dumping. Photos of the debris include some pretty disturbing evidence, but the presence of a cruise liner tag amongst the debris points to the probable culprit. The President of Safe Waters of Massachusetts describes the scene.

Packages of human excrement, rubber gloves, flip flops, water bottles..I’m sure it’s from the ship. It makes perfect sense to me, because the little tag is right in there with the rest of the stuff.

According to the Coast Guard, ships need to be at least nine miles off the Massachusetts coast. The fact is, it may have well been within that nine mile requirement. A strong current in the right direction could easily have washed the debris ashore. Even if it was illegal, it’s hard to prove unless there was a witness.

The large ships are required to partially treat their sewage, leaving liquid waste and solid waste. Regulations are more strict on the West Coast. A report by the State of Washington Department of Ecology, state that ships are required to be  twelve nautical miles off the coast before they are allowed to dump what is called black water. Black water is simply waste water from toilets where the liquids are extracted, leaving solid waste, which is then partially treated. Cruise ships are further restricted if there is a shellfish bed nearby, but they can still dump as long as it is no closer than one half a mile.

What exactly does get dumped by these ships? According to a report by Friends of the Earth, using information gathered from the EPA, a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers generates a 210,000 gallons of sewage in a week. To understand how much that is, that’s equal to 10 backyard swimming pools. That partially treated waste contains viruses, bacteria, and even heavy metals. All of that gets swallowed and absorbed by all the aquatic life that is within range.

The sewage that the passengers did see is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more waste that’s dumped into our oceans. An internet search for the words ‘five gyres’ shows the much larger problem. There are literally miles and miles of plastic bottles, tooth brushes, and other plastic garbage that makes its way into our oceans. While the ocean is large, it is fast becoming the world’s dumping ground.

Most of us think nothing of it when we toss our trash away. When on a cruise ship, we do the same. We sit back and soak up the sun, cruising along and taking in the scenery. If you are planning a cruise, but want to know how cruise lines compare, you can check out this report card by the Friends of the Earth. If I were you, I wouldn’t choose Carnival Cruise Lines. They received a D+.  After this past week, I bet quite a few passengers from the Triumph would agree with that assessment and a few might even give up this type of vacation altogether.


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