Kuki Saves the Waves

| May 22, 2006

See the complete photo layout for this article here: Cruise Ship Ecology

I've been on a continuing quest to try out various staff jobs aboard cruise ships so I can report to you about what things are like from the crew's point of view. In previous articles, I trained and worked as an assistant cruise director, a butler, and a blackjack dealer in the casino. So next it was time to try an officer's job. The ship that gave me a chance was Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas.

Since no one wanted me to try driving the ship -- including myself -- they chose a department that's more suited to my abilities: waste, sludge and garbage.

Training Day The task of "training" me fell to Jennifer Hudson, the Environmental Officer on Radiance of the Seas.
CJennifer Hudson w/ Chief EngineerClick all Pics for Full Size
Early in our initial conversations, it must have been painfully obvious to Jennifer that I'd be an unlikely challenger to take over her position. Her big challenge would be to overcome my "open deck passenger mentality" and get me to a position where I could understand anything that goes on below deck.

Jennifer is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Knowing I was with a fellow Canadian, I felt somewhat comfortable starting out, because we both spoke the same language. But I quickly discovered that in terms of environmental duties on a ship, the language, though English, was very foreign to me.

There was a lot more going on below deck than I ever imagined. The management of all the "behind the scenes" areas of the ship -- pretty much everything related to the operation of the vessel -- is a humongous task, and one that most of us would rarely give a thought to when we board for our vacations.

We began my "training experience" with the key to Royal Caribbean's "Save the Waves" program - the Waste Stream Operational Controls. There are hundreds of copies of charts that display and explain this program throughout all crew working areas on the ship -- and all crew members are trained in aspects of the program. Even crew who return to the ship after vacations must go through a refresher course.

Categories of Waste The environmental concerns of the ship are broken into six categories: gray water, black water, bilge water, sludge, hotel and restaurant waste, and special waste.

Gray water includes used water that comes from cabin sinks and showers, laundry, the galley, air conditioning concentrate, and the salon. All of the gray water is collected in holding tanks, then removed from the ship in one of two ways -- discharged into the sea (beyond the 12 nautical mile limit from land) or transferred to an approved shore side treatment facility in port.

Black water includes waste water from toilets and medical facilities.
Black Water Treatment
There is black water treatment equipment onboard, as well as a separate black water holding tank. Once black water is treated, it can be discharged into the sea beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, or it might be held in the storage tanks to be transferred to an approved shore side treatment plant.

All the valves that release these wastes into the ocean are guarded with large padlocks. I had no doubt the crew put them there to prevent my training session from becoming an international environmental disaster.

Bilge water includes all liquids collected in open spaces in the bottom of the ship. These are transferred to a separate holding tank, and then to a treatment unit, then through monitors to a clean holding tank, through yet another monitor where they are documented, and from there they are handled in the same manner described above -- discharged into the ocean or held to be transferred shore side.

Sludge refers to used lubricating oil, or fuel residue. All sludge must be carefully documented. Whenever possible, the sludge is sent to the ship's incinerator, where it's turned into "land ash." Other sludge is simply held. Both sludge and land ash are then transferred for shore side disposal.

Hotel and Restaurant Waste: This is the stuff we passengers create by the ton -- paper, plastic, food waste, cans and glass. The magnitude of handling all these materials collected during a cruise is difficult to comprehend until you‘ve seen the operation.

All paper and plastic materials go through the incinerators onboard and are turned to "land ash," which is collected and stored onboard until it can be transferred for shore side disposal. Food waste is all sent through grinders first; then some of it may be discharged into the sea, and some is incinerated and collected with the other land ash for shore side disposal. Whatever means of disposal is chosen must be carefully documented.

Empty cans go through a large compactor, and then are placed in cold storage units, along with glass that has been run through a crushing machine. All plastic and glass collected are then stored for land disposal.

The last category in the waste stream is "special waste." This includes chemicals, spent fluorescent bulbs, batteries, used paints and thinners, photo and dry cleaning waste. These are all stored in segregated containers, and documented, then landed ashore to the authorized waste management professionals.

The Paper Trail This extensive program is overseen by the Environmental Officer, and I was frankly overwhelmed at how complicated the issues are -- not to mention the volume of paperwork, logs and reports the Environmental Officer is responsible for. She is ultimately in charge of the handling of all hazardous materials onboard, and for the transportation, storage, and use of chemicals, as well as planning and labeling all waste for shore-side removal when the wastes are landed (transferred to an approved land-based facility).

The Shipboard Oil Pollution Energy Plan (SOPEP) also falls into the Environmental Officer's portfolio. If an accidental oil leak occurs at sea, the ship carries three booms that can be placed to control the spillage. The Environmental Officer must coordinate with the Chief Engineer in these instances.

Above and beyond all this, there is an Accident Incident Reporting Tracking System, which is networked fleet-wide, and must be monitored. If an incident is reported on any ship, the information is shared with every ship in the fleet, so they can all perform checks and balances to reduce the chance the accident will happen again.

Jennifer Hudson has been employed with Royal Caribbean for more than five years; her career began in the Guest Relations Department. From there she moved to the Marine Department, and when the opportunity came to apply for the position of Environmental Officer, she took courses to improve her qualifications. These courses included Hazardous Material Handling, First Responder Courses, as well as an Advanced Fire Fighting Course.

In addition to her responsibilities as Environmental Officer, she is a member of one of the ship's firefighting teams, and would also serve as a Tender Commander, if that ever became necessary.

Jennifer reports directly to the Captain, who holds an environmental meeting once a week, at a minimum, to discuss any issues that arise, and to go over all the reports.

Contract Terms Jennifer's contract is similar to those of the Captain and other officers; it is known as the 1/1 system.
Firefighting Equipment
She works 14 weeks, then gets 14 weeks vacation. Now before you go running off to take courses to qualify for this shipboard position, seeing it as your way to see the world, keep in mind that during her 14 weeks on the ship, Jennifer works seven days a week, and 10 -12 hours per day. With this job, you'll spend a lot more time seeing the bowels of the ship than its exotic destinations.

While on this day on the job, my lack of training prevented me from even considering any real hands-on involvement in these sensitive areas. But I certainly had an eye-opening experience.

I got to witness first-hand the at-sea construction of a new $3 million piece of equipment for the Advanced Water Plan, which will significantly purify all the gray water and food waste that the ship produces. The project will take three to five months to complete.

On this adventure I was able to tour through the ship's bridge and engineering control room, and see the various waste holding tanks, compactors, and glass crushers. We inspected the firefighting equipment, and the areas holding the hazardous materials suits. I even got to meet Oscar. He's the dummy they use in their "man overboard" drills, and when I met the Captain, he thought I might be well suited to serve as a replacement for Oscar.

I was privileged to get a look at the huge (actually breath-taking) twin turbine engines. These are enclosed in a separate room. I was told the doors are only opened if a problem is detected, or for scheduled maintenance -- though I suspect the locked rooms may have been specially built when word of my coming anywhere near them got out.

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