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Cruise Memorandum of Understanding

P​artnering with the Cruise Industry and the Department of Ecology to Reduce Wastewater Discharge from Cruise Ships


The cruise industry has been one of the fastest growing business segments at the Port of Seattle. Just as on shore, ship operations and passengers generate waste as part of many daily activities. In an effort to protect this region's marine environment, the Port of Seattle has played a significant role in ensuring that cruise lines understand all environmental laws and regulations applicable to Washington state.

What laws or rules govern cruise ship discharges?

On an international level, environmental processes are governed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) policies and procedures for the maritime industry. In the United States, the federal government requires compliance with the IMO and the Coast Guard has local jurisdiction over cruise ship discharges. In Washington state, the Department of Ecology also enforces water quality regulations.

The cruise business is booming in Seattle. It has grown from just six ships and 6,615 passengers in 1999 to 179 vessels and 823,780 passengers in 2014. This growing business has brought with it tremendous economic benefits. In 2014, Seattle's cruise business is estimates to have generated $408 million in revenue for the region's economy, supported more than 3,404 local jobs and contributed $16.1 million in state and local taxes. But these ships also create waste. 

Memorandum of Understanding and Public Comment Period

Cruise Ship MOU

The Cruise Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a voluntary agreement between three signatories: the Port of Seattle, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Cruise Lines International Association – North West & Canada. Interest in establishing the MOU started during the rapid growth of the cruise ship business in Washington in the last decade. Several bodies of law already govern waste management aspects of cruise ship operation. Nevertheless, the parties decided to create the MOU that goes beyond other existing environmental requirements. The original MOU was signed in 2004.

Public Comment Period

November 2014 - Proposals to amend the MOU regarding cruise operations in Washington State are being accepted through December 4. Proposed amendments can be submitted on the Department of Ecology website.

In 2011 the three parties to the MOU (Department of Ecology, Port of Seattle and North West Canadian Cruise Association), agreed to an amendment procedure that includes accepting proposals from the public every three years.