By Leigh Armstrong 

Mayor Andrew Cremata is hoping to get more cruise lines to pay for third-party monitoring of emissions for their ships that call on Skagway next year, following Norwegian Cruise Line’s decision to participate.

The mayor said he plans to formally reach out in December, but has already been in talks with Holland America Line, whose ships made more than 60 stops in Skagway this past summer. Norwegian Cruise Line ships visited more than 50 times.

In particular, Cremata said he is hoping to sign up Carnival too. The company’s  17-year-old Legend was named in residents’ calls to the municipality for excessive smoke more than any other ship this summer.

In September, the borough received multiple calls from residents about blue smoke hanging over Taiya Inlet, coming from a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. Borough Manager Brad Ryan reached out to the company, which informed him the smoke was water vapor caused by emissions scrubbers on the ships.

The scrubbers were put in place to comply with international fuel regulations that require the ships to reduce sulfur emissions. The U.N. International Maritime Organization has ordered that starting Jan. 1, ships may not burn fuel with more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, down significantly from current standards that allow fuel with 3.5 percent sulfur content. Or, in lieu of low-sulfur fuels, ships have the option of installing scrubbers to clean the pollutant from their engine exhaust.

Rather than switch to a more expensive fuel, the majority of cruise lines, including Norwegian, opted to install scrubbers, according to a January 2019 report in the Miami Herald. The systems spray the exhaust with water, with removes the sulfur for disposal.

Ryan said the exhaust is clean after the scrubbing, and the plumes have to do more with the temperature going from a hot exhaust system to cold air.

Even after the assurances that the exhaust was safe, the mayor and Ryan spoke with Norwegian Cruise Line about testing its emissions. The company agreed to pay for third-party testing to make sure all its emissions are clean.

“Testing will start at the beginning of the 2020 season and the results will be made public,” Cremata wrote in an Oct. 6 post on his official Facebook page.

The municipality is waiting on quotes from third-party monitors for the work, the mayor said.

“I’m just hoping we can get this all hammered out and see some good proposals,” Ryan said.

While the emissions may test clean, the goal is to make sure the community is satisfied with the findings, Ryan said. 

“It’ll be fun to see what we can test for,” he said.

Several complaints were made to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation about cruise ship emissions in Skagway this past summer. Of the nine complaints, only one emissions violation was issued, which went to Princess Cruises in May.

Carnival Corp. owns Princess Cruises, Holland America and Carnival Cruise Line.

The state of Alaska used to operate what it called the Ocean Rangers program, which put Coast Guard-certified marine engineers or other trained personnel on board cruise ships to monitor for compliance with state and federal marine discharge and pollution rules. Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated the program this year.

The Ocean Rangers were not responsible for monitoring air emissions.

While the emissions may test clean, the goal is to make sure the community is happy with the findings, Ryan said. 

“It’ll be fun to see what we can test for,” Ryan said.

Additionally, Cremata is hoping to get other cruise lines to agree to third-party emission monitoring for the 2020 season and is reaching out to every cruise ship company that docks in Skagway to do so. Cremata is planning to formally reach out in December, but has already been in talks with Holland America. In particular, Cremata is hoping to make an arrangement with Carnival, as the Legends ship was the one that received the most complaints over the season.