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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the actions being taken by federal regulators and the cruise ship industry to prevent future illegal discharges of waste, focusing on: (1) the nature and extent of reported illegal discharge cases for foreign-flagged cruise ships from 1993 through 1998; (2) federal agencies' efforts to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute illegal discharges from foreign-flagged cruise ships; (3) the actions cruise ship companies with proven illegal discharge violations have taken to prevent future illegal discharges; and (4) the views of relevant federal agencies and third-party interest groups regarding the actions that cruise ship companies have taken, and what issues, if any, they believe require further attention.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To improve oversight of the cruise ship industry, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to initiate discussions with the cruise ship industry, other federal and state agencies, and environmental groups, as appropriate, on the need for improved water quality standards for gray water and black water discharged from cruise ships and other vessels and assess the need to periodically monitor the water quality of these discharges.
Closed - Implemented
Subsequent to our report, the Coast Guard initiated discussion with the International Council of Cruise Lines on the need for improved water quality standards. In addition, the Coast Guard formed an interagency workgroup with other concerned federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, Justice, State, and MARAD) to find ways to better control and regulate waste streams caused by cruise ships including gray water discharges. Finally, the Coast Guard has engaged state agencies, particularly Alaska, to set up voluntary standards on limits, conditions on gray and black water discharges, and sampling and testing procedures.
Department of Transportation To improve oversight of the cruise ship industry, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to, in its capacity as a lead agency for the United States at the International Maritime Organization, work vigorously within the organization, using whatever means are available, to encourage the member countries to comply with procedures requiring flag states to respond when pollution cases are referred to them. To effectively accomplish this, the Coast Guard needs to renew efforts to develop and refer to the Department of State alleged pollution cases occurring outside U.S. jurisdiction and make greater efforts to periodically follow up on these alleged cases.
Closed - Implemented
Through its membership on International Maritime Organization committees, the Coast Guard has encouraged member countries to respond when pollution cases are referred to them, recognizing that the laws and enforcement policies of foreign governments vary considerable. According to the Coast Guard, the agency will, when appropriate and in consultation with the Department of State, forward apparent MARPOL violation cases to foreign governments for their prosecution.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to reexamine ways--within existing resources and without detracting from other primary missions--to provide more effective aircraft surveillance of cruise ships and other commercial vessels.
Closed - Implemented
According to the Coast Guard, the agency reexamined their aircraft surveillance and made technology improvements to enhance the Coast Guard's ability to detect, classify, and identify surface targets. For example, the existing HC-130H Airborne Sensor with Palletized Electronic Reconnaissance Systems and CASPER-like sensor upgrades in a portion of the HU-25A fleet, along with ongoing night vision improvements to Coast Guard aviation assets, may yield an increase in the number of pollution violations detected and prosecuted.

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