Case Study: Cruise Ships and the Disposal of Waste at Sea
Vacation cruises have become very popular. Approximately 85 cruise ships, primarily based in Miami, Florida, offer three-, five-, or seven-day trips to Bermuda andthe Bahamas, the Caribbean, and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Some of these cruise ships are very large, carrying 2,000 to 3,000 passengers and 500 to 700 staff, the equivalent of a medium-sized town. The large size is a major cause of the pollution problem.
The large cruise shops are essentially floating hotels, but unlike land-based hotels they are not connected to municipal water and sewer systems. They carry the fresh water needed for drinking, washing, laundry, and kitchen use in huge tanks. Human wastes from toilets are stored in large tanks that are pumped out when the ship returns to the home port. Non-human wastes are stored in much smaller tanks that are discharged each night, at sea.
The nonhuman wastes are called “grey water,” a euphemism that brings to mind the soapy water from baths and showers. That is certainly included, but also included is wastewater from the clothes washers for sheets and towels in the ship’s laundry, from the dishwashers for plates, utensils, and pans in the ship’s kitchen, and from the many garbage disposals. It is an unsavory, smelly mess that is discharged at night in order not to concern or disturb the guests.
Officials in the companies that own the cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises, say that they cannot afford to carry tanks large enough to store all the non-human waste until they return to their home port. The ships add fresh water to their tanks when they stop at islands in the Caribbean or atports in the Bahamas or Bermuda. But those ports do not have waste treatment plants large enough to accept either the human or non-human waste for processing.
The space needed for much larger tanks to store non-human waste would, company officials claim, substantially take away from the space available for the accommodation of paying passengers. No one is hurt, they add, by disposal at sea because these are chemical (soap) and biological materials that quickly disperse in the wave actions of the sea. It is true that marine life has declined severely in this area, but company officials say this is due to poor waste treatment practices on the islands themselves and overfishing by ships from many foreign countries.
The island nations don’t like grey water dumping off their coasts, but they are dependent upon the dollars brought by tourists shopping for souvenirs, gifts, and clothing at ports-of-call during the cruise. Island nations that objected too strongly in the past have been told that the cruise ships would simply find a different port-of-call. International maritime law provides no assistance to those nations; it is not illegal for ships to dump wastes “at sea,” which is usually defined as three miles from the nearest point of land.
Some of the smaller Caribbean nations appealed to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO). They claimed in their appeal that nutrients from the garbage and chemicals from the detergents had greatly increased the growth of viral and bacterial agents throughout the Caribbean. Now, they added, dense clouds of these tiny organisms can be found in the seawater, and many sea creatures, such as fish, turtles, and dolphins, are showing signs of external rashes and internal tumors. The WHO said in reply that they had no authority to act as long as it could not be proven that human health was affected.
Senior executives at the major cruise lines were concerned, but they believed that there was little they could do. Ship designers had estimated that it would decrease passenger accommodations by 15 percent to 20 percent to add the much larger tanks needed to store the “gray water” wastes. Those tanks, due to their weight when full, would have to be built below the waterline in space currently used for the crew’s quarters. The crew, now housed in very crowded conditions that cannot be further compressed, would have to be moved into new facilities built where passenger cabins now exist.
Those same executives believed that, if those changes in the physical layout of the ships were made, ticket prices would have to be increased by an equivalent 15 percent to 20 percent to make up for the lost revenue. This, it was feared, would decrease customer demand. Now, because of their hugeeconomies of scale and the scenic attractiveness of the region they visit, cruise ships offer highly desired and relatively inexpensive vacations. On the other hand, the executives admitted that apparently, the quality of the seawater had deteriorated to some extent, and that at least part of theresponsibility for that deterioration might be due to the waste dumping practices of the cruise lines.
Answer the following questions after you have read the case:
Who are the Stakeholders involved in this case? What does each have to gain or lose?
If you were part of the top management team at the cruise ship company, how
would you approach this issue?
In thinking about what to do as managers, did it help to do a stakeholder analysis?