Thursday, July 17, 2008

Touring a cruise ship

Forty folks from the Mat-Su Valley were invited to tour a cruise ship in Whittier last week, and I got to go with! This year, I'm the president of the board of the Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau. It was a really neat trip! The Alaska Cruise Association invited us to tour the Princess Coral, in port for the day, to see how they deal with wastewater, water usage, food sanitation, and environmental issues. They're reaching out to opinion leaders in tourism, the business community, and politics to get their side of the story out, since many folks still think of cruise ships in the same terms of the Exxon Valdez tanker in terms of being polluters and environmental hazards.

It was really something to go below decks to see the underground city of thousands of workers. We got to see how they sort through every bit of garbage and recycle something like 80% of it, with just little bits being incinerated. They carry tons and tons of crushed, palleted plastics, glass and other stuff getting carted back to Vancouver for recycling. The other kind of refuse, the human kind, goes through big systems where bacteria and membranes break down blackwater from toilets and refine it until is runs clear out of the test spigots. As we walked through the engine room seeing huge engines with huge parts and gears, it made me think of my only other reference to large ships, The Titanic movie. It was hot, maybe not as hot as the boiler room in Titanic where the men shoveled coal. It was really clean, though--not oily and black. Everything was freshly painted and neat as a pin. Everybody's uniforms were tidy and pressed. The laundry rooms and kitchens were very interesting, too. The only part that freaked me out was that we were several floors below the waterline. They showed us the watertight doors and to respect the siren-sound they make as they are closing in emergencies. That took me straight back to Titanic fright, of the engine rooms flooding and guys trying to get through the watertight doors as they closed in the movie. That was scary, that and the posters they had up next to the doors, telling people in several languages to stay back, showing a uniform jacket with one sleeve torn off and bloody about elbow length.

I didn't quite get down the whole system, but it seemed that whole areas of jobs were occupied by one nationality. The Captain, those on the bridge, and one of the head engineers were Italian and spoke Italian on the phone back and forth. The laundry guys were almost all southeast Asian, and the servers in the dining room for our delicious luncheon were largely slavic or eastern European.

I learned a whole lot about parts per billion, how much copper should or shouldn't be in the water, how the EPA does testing, and about sensitive marine mammals like bi-valves such as scallops and what is harmful to them. We learned that the Princess Coral is a Pana-Max--the widest ship able to go through the Panama Canal. They now have post-Pana-Max ships which are too wide to go through the Panama Canal, but may stay in the Pacific, for example, doing Alaska runs in our summer then perhaps sailing from San Diego to Hawaii in the winter or heading further south.

There were several invited guests on our trip from our agricultural community and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The cruise lines are pursuing Mat-Su Valley produce to use on the ships for guests, to use local vegetables. They did a test run this summer with potatoes and carrots and hope to expand what they're buying next year in larger quantities.
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