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Alaska's Governor Will Not Bid Out Cruise Observer Program

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Cruise ship passing through Glacier Bay National Park (file image courtesy Holland America))

By The Maritime Executive 2019-08-01 14:02:55

The Alaskan state legislature has reauthorized funding for a program that places environmental monitors aboard cruise ships operating in Alaskan waters, effectively overriding a veto by Alaska Gov. Michael Dunleavy. However, Dunleavy's Department of Environmental Conservation has no plans to operate the program in the manner envisioned at the time of its creation, DEC Commissioner Jason Brune told local radio network CoastAlaska. 

"We will not be renewing and going out for a bid for that contract," he said, referring to the contract for Alaska's Ocean Rangers program, which hires licensed American merchant mariners to monitor environmental compliance on board large cruise ships in Alaska. The state is still legally required to collect a $4-per-passenger fee to pay for the self-funded program.

Commissioner Brune told CoastAlaska that he wants to work with the legislature to "create a new and improved program that works for everyone." The planned improvements would feature onboard automated electronic monitoring rather than the Ocean Rangers observers.

The program's observers reported nearly 200 alleged violations last year, and the head of the cruise ship program at DEC, Edward White, has described them as "a critical part in our permitting process." However, White is departing this year, and Commissioner Brune suggested that his division could be dis-established and its staff redistributed between the DEC's air and water departments.

In years past, the U.S. Coast Guard-licensed marine engineers who staff the Ocean Rangers program have been provided by Crowley Maritime, a highly-regarded American maritime company based in Florida. In a statement in February, Crowley emphasized that it is proud of the work it has done with DEC over the years.