Canada Implements Strict Environmental Measures For Cruise Ships

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As cruise ships return to Canadian shores after a 2-year pause in operations, the environmental impact that cruise ships have on the environment is back under discussion. As it is a concern, the Canadian government has implemented a series of environmental measures that cruise ships must adhere to. 

The new measures will exceed those in place through international guidelines such as The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, MARPOL. The measures have been co-designed by the Canadian government and the cruise industry and involve treating and disposing of grey and black water. 

New Environmental Measures For Cruise Ships In Canada

While cruise ships have come under much criticism in the last decade relating to the environment, nearly all cruise ships operational today comply with strict measures implemented by the International Maritime Organization. 

Nonetheless, Canada has designed a stricter and more comprehensive set of measures designed to protect Canada’s shores. The measures will support the work underway to conserve 25 percent of Canada’s oceans by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.

Vancouver Cruise Terminal in Canada
Photo Credit: Shawn.ccf /

The Government of Canada plans to make these changes permanent through regulations and said it appreciates the cruise ship industry’s willingness to pursue these measures. The measures follow the public health framework to restart cruise ship activity in Canadian waters safely, announced on March 7.

Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport: “Cruise ships are an important part of our economy and tourism sector, and as Canada prepares to welcome them back to our waters this month, we are committed to working with our industry partners to implement these new measures to ensure their return is safer and cleaner for our environment.”

The new requirements are as follows:

  • Prohibiting the discharge of greywater and treated blackwater within three nautical miles from shore where geographically possible;
  • Treating greywater together with blackwater before it is discharged between three and twelve nautical miles from shore to the greatest extent possible;
  • Strengthening the treatment of blackwater between three and twelve nautical miles from shore using an approved treatment device; and
  • Reporting to Transport Canada compliance with these measures related to discharges made within Canadian waters.

Joyce Murray, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, said: “The protection of our oceans and their ecosystems is a top priority for our government. With these new measures to address cruise ship pollution, this important part of our tourism sector can now chart a cleaner course through Canada’s spectacular coastal waters.”

Cruise Ships Docked in Vancouver, Canada
Photo Credit: Macklin Holloway /

While they may seem strict, the new measures will likely not worry new cruise ships too much. The newer ships have waste treatment plants that far exceed current regulations, where there often is no need anymore to discharge anything at sea. 

What Are The MARPOL Rules?

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships has been designed to minimize ships’ effects on the environment. It prohibits any discharge of sewage water near shore. 

Greywater is the drainage from sinks, laundry machines, bathtubs, shower stalls, or dishwashers. While greywater has some bacteria, it is usually safe to discharge at sea if treated. Blackwater is defined as the wastewater from bathrooms and toilets, which contains human waste and is unsafe.

MARPOL states that sewage can be discharged into the sea after it is treated, and the distance of the ship is four nautical miles from the nearest land.

If sewage is not treated, this can be discharged 12 nautical miles away from the nearest land. The discharged sewage should not produce any visible floating solids, nor should it cause any discoloration of the surrounding water.

The new measures are aligned with the regulations set out in MARPOL, and cruise ship operators will be required to make periodic reports to the authorities. These reports will be made public, and support a future regulatory approach to controlling the discharge of greywater and blackwater in Canadian waters.

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