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US Port Partners with Cruise Ship Operators to Reduce Air Pollution

Cruise ships bring tourists and inject millions of dollars into port cities around the world. But they also bring a more dangerous cargo -- pollution. VOA's Mil Arcega reports one port has partnered with cruise ship operators to reduce the level of airborne pollutants.

Cruise ships can evoke images of luxury and comfort. But take a closer look and a different picture emerges. Global environmental groups say, in just one day, a single smokestack can generate the same amount of pollution as 12,000 cars.

Dennis McLerran heads Puget Sound's Clean Air Agency. "Those fine particles in diesel exhaust lodge deeply into the lungs. They affect kids with asthma."

Cruise ship operator Holland America hopes to reduce the harmful emissions by plugging into the power grid of the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle. Company president Stein Kruse says the port's giant transformers will allow the company's ships to run on electricity instead of diesel fuel when they dock.

"The ships of today and the size of our engines and the power requirements are so substantial and to bring something like this into the city's electrical grid requires a lot of technology," said Mr. Kruse.

It also requires a lot of money. Princess Cruises spent more than $1 million last year to install the new electrical system at the Seattle port. And it cost another million dollars to retrofit each ship.

Holland America is also spending big money. Kruse says the company is testing a new, million-dollar seawater scrubber to clean ship exhaust before it reaches the smokestack. "The seawater will scrub these emissions so the particulate matters will go back into the ship and ultimately blended with the sludge and off-loaded."

Experts say the new initiatives will help reduce air pollution by 30 percent. But environmentalists warn the new technologies will have little impact unless all ships comply. Emission standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency apply only to domestic ships, even though foreign-flagged vessels account for 90 percent of the pollution at U.S. ports.