Ottawa Tightens Environmental Rules for Cruise Ships as Season Gets Off to a Rocky Start

Cruise ship outside of Canada Place in Vancouver, BC
Cruise ship outside of Canada Place in Vancouver, BC

The same week that cruise ships were scheduled to return to Canadian waters after a two year COVID pause, the government of Canada launched new, stricter environmental measures for cruise ships that it says now “exceed international standards.”

The new rules take effect in the current 2022 season and affect how cruise ships deal with wastewater.

It’s divided into two categories. Greywater is the water that drains from sinks, laundry machines, bathtubs, shower-stalls, or dishwashers. Blackwater is wastewater from bathrooms and toilets. The government says both can contain pollutants that can harm oceans and shorelines if they are discharged into the sea and close to shore.

According to the new measures, cruise lines operating in Canadian waters are prohibited from discharging either greywater or treated blackwater within three nautical miles from shore, and must improve treatment of waste water discharged further offshore.

In addition, ships will report their compliance with these new measures to Transport Canada. Initially, Ottawa is relying on cruise line cooperation, but government ministers say they plan to enact the measures into permanent law.

“The protection of our oceans and their ecosystems is a top priority for our government,” said minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray.

“With these new measures to address cruise ship pollution, this important part of our tourism sector can now chart a cleaner course through Canada’s spectacular coastal waters.”

Ottawa says the new wastewater measures will contribute to better protecting Canadian oceans and marine environment, and are part of the government’s commitment to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

At the same time, the feds acknowledge the $4 billion economic impact of cruise ship visits in Canada, with transport minister Omar Alghabra saying, “As Canada prepares to welcome them back to our waters this month, we are committed to working with our industry partners to implement these new measures to ensure their return is safer and cleaner for our environment.”

Rough Seas

The wastewater measures come as B.C. ports were expecting to greet the first ships of the cruise season this week, following Ottawa’s announcement last month that testing rules would be relaxed for cruise arrivals, who must be fully vaccinated.

It was meant to provide a framework for the smooth resumption of cruising in Canada, but so far, it hasn’t been smooth sailing.

The first cruise scheduled to arrive in Canada this season was cancelled by the cruise line just days before its scheduled calls in two B.C. ports.

The Caribbean Princess was due to call in Victoria and Vancouver on 06 and 07APR respectively. Princess Cruises cancelled the cruise at the last minute, blaming it on necessary drydock maintenance. At the same time, local media reports that “U.S. officials have confirmed they are also investigating cases of COVID-19 on board,” although it’s not confirmed that was a contributing factor to the cruise cancellation.

Tuesday comes word that more of the first wave of cruise ships calling in B.C. already have active COVID cases on board.

CTVNews on Vancouver Island reports that 9 of the 11 ships due to call in Victoria in APR have a high enough number of positive cases of COVID currently on board to trigger a change in status under the CDC’s cruise program from “green” to either “orange” or “yellow.”

Anyone on board a cruise ship that tests positive is immediately isolated on board the ship to avoid spreading the virus. They are not permitted to go ashore.

The rocky start to Canada’s cruise season highlights the challenges for travel now that countries are adapting policies to ‘live with’ COVID.

Lynn Elmhirst


With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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