Santa Barbara Channelkeeper has been monitoring discharge from the cruise ships arriving to Santa Barbara, and visiting with the captains to let them know they are under scrutiny. | Credit: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

The cruise ship bobbing offshore of Santa Barbara Harbor on Tuesday got a grade of F from Friends of the Earth for the air and water quality it leaves in its wake, failing grades called out by the watchdog nonprofit Santa Barbara Channelkeeper in a press release.

Many of the ships slated to arrive through May have been given D or F grades in the annual survey conducted by Friends of the Earth.

Credit: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

Cruise ships are also tracked by the Centers for Disease Control, which rated today’s vessel — the Koningsdam, operated by Holland America — with a middling “orange” status. The ship was considered “highly vaccinated” but reported enough cases of COVID-19 to come under investigation and observation.

The City of Santa Barbara asks each ship’s captain to sign an agreement to respect the “no discharge” guidelines regarding pollution within 12 nautical miles of shore, and that the Harbor Patrol would be notified if any discharge or incineration took place. 

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Erik Engebretson, manager of the city’s Harbor operations, said that if violations are brought to his office, they would be “investigated to the full extent of the law.”

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s research vessel goes out to meet some of the visiting ships, a program it has relaunched this year. “The cruise-ship captains are generally polite, though surprised, to encounter our team,” said Ben Pitterle, science and policy director for S.B. Channelkeeper. “It’s clear that they aren’t used to being monitored.”

Credit: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

Ships get rid of hundreds of thousands of gallons of laundry, shower, and bilge water and treated sewage, according to Channelkeeper. On-board incinerators are used to burn trash, which causes air pollution, though some are equipped with scrubbers to reduce the pollutants, said Ted Morton, executive director of S.B. Channelkeeper.

The voluntary program has a new request that asks that ships slow to no more than 10 knots to avoid striking whales within the 12-mile limit, Pitterle said.

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