09 December 2010

Cruise Ships Visiting Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands Must Comply with New emission rules

New emission rules to target ships in Puerto Rico, USVI


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Federal (U.S.) officials are looking to clear the air in two U.S. Caribbean territories by requiring cruise liners, tankers and other large ships in the region to reduce their emissions or face penalties.

The plan is to take effect in late 2013. It will target ships traveling in waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which have some of the busiest ports in the Caribbean, Judith Enck, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Wednesday.

The two islands * were initially excluded from a plan adopted earlier this year by a United Nations agency to control emissions from large ships that sail within 200 nautical miles of the U.S. and Canadian coasts, she said.

"There is a real problem with local pollution," Enck said.

The Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico sees more than 1 million cruise ship passengers every year, along with nearly 3,800 cargo ships laden with 11 million metric tons of goods. Some 800 cruise ships arrive every year in nearby St. Thomas, which is the largest cruise port in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Under the plan, ships will have to use cleaner fuel or install special equipment to reduce air pollution. As a result, the EPA estimates sulfur dioxide and fine particles that are linked to asthma and cancer could be cut by roughly 90 percent within a decade. Many big ships outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government often run on fuels with high sulfur levels.

Under the plan, which needs approval from the United Nations' London-based International Maritime Organization, EPA officials will randomly show up at ports to check whether ships are in compliance, Enck said.

The penalties have not yet been established, but impounding ships has been suggested as one option, said Elias Rodriguez, an EPA spokesman.

Shippers and cruise companies initially opposed the plan, saying it would be expensive and create arbitrary boundaries. Several cruise companies contacted Wednesday referred comment to the Cruise Lines International Association, which issued a statement saying it was committed to working with international environmental regulators. It also said cruise companies have taken several steps to reduce emissions by their ships, including operating diesel electric engines.

The EPA estimates the plan will increase the price of a cruise and the cost of transporting a 20-foot (6-meter) container by less than 1 percent.

* The US Virgin Islands is comprised of three islands, St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John).