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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 223 vessels and 931,698 passengers in 2010. This growing business has brought with it tremendous economic benefits. In 2010, Seattle's cruise business is estimates to have generated $425 million in revenue for the region's economy, supported more than 4,447 local jobs and contributed $18.9 million in state and local taxes. But these ships also create waste. 

Memorandum of Understanding and Public Comment Period 

Cruise Ship MOU
November 2011 - Amendments to the Memorandum of Understanding regarding cruise operations in Washington State are being accepted until November 22, 2012. Proposed amendments can be submitted on the Department of Ecology website The three parties to the MOU ( Department of Ecology, Port of Seattle and North West Canadian Cruise Association), agreed last year to an amendment procedure that includes accepting proposals from the public every three years. The process agreed to is as follows:

Amendments to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will occur every three years starting in 2012. A request for proposed amendments will be posted on the Port of Seattle and Department of Ecology websites at the beginning of November of the year preceding the amendment adoption (e.g., in the beginning of November 2011 for 2012 adoption). All proposed amendments must be submitted within 21 calendar days of the posting.

A 45-day review period will follow for all of the MOU signatories to review and validate the proposed amendments (around mid January). This period is longer to account for the holiday period, if the timing is different, review periods may be adjusted accordingly.

Amendments that meet the criteria identified below will be then posted for a 30-day public comment period (around mid February).
At the end of the comment period, MOU signatories will review the comments and meet to decide which, if any, of the proposed amendments should be adopted.

Criteria for Proposed Amendments
1) All proposed amendments meeting the following criteria will be advanced for further review and comment:
2) In order to be considered, proposed amendments must be submitted within three weeks of the posted request for proposed amendments.
3) Proposed amendments should include only cruise ship activity within the boundaries of the MOU.
4) The MOU, as amended, should not duplicate or replace existing regulations that govern cruise ships, however they may be more stringent.
5)Proposed amendments must receive the sponsorship of one of the MOU signatories. (Note: sponsorship does not necessarily mean that the signatory will support adoption of the proposed amendment.)
6)If none of the signatories support a proposed amendment, it will not be reviewed or considered for adoption.

Proposed amendments must include:
  • The basis for the amendment (e.g., what environmental concern it addresses)
  • How the amendment is applicable to or compatible with the MOU
  • The anticipated benefits of the amendment
  • Potential impacts of the amendment
  • Scientific data that supports the proposed amendment as applicable
In order for an amendment to be adopted, it must receive unanimous approval from the MOU signatories. The only exception to this amendment process is an amendment proposed by one of the signatories and supported unanimously by the other two signatories.
Under the rules, discharge of untreated wastewater is not allowed in Washington waters. Only wastewater treated by advanced treatment systems can be discharged. These systems remove virtually all bacteria and solids, rendering it non-toxic in the environment and harmless to humans. It's not just treated water - it's cleaned water.
This agreement, which was extended in 2006 to include the entire Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, prohibits all untreated cruise ship wastewater discharges.

Memorandum of Understanding and its appendices: