Morris Mickelson is currently riding the Norwegian Sun as an Ocean Ranger, monitoring the ship's compliance with environmental requirements as well as sanitation, health and safety practices. He is shown holding a tilt phone he uses to fill out daily reports. This year, all of the Ocean Rangers also have laptops, enabling them to write more extensive reports.
Story last updated at 5/13/2009 - 11:29 am
JUNEAU - Morris Mickelson is spending his summer in Alaskan waters onboard large cruise ships, but he's neither passenger nor crew.
Mickelson is one of 32 Ocean Rangers dispatched by the Ocean Ranger Program, which the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) piloted in 2007. Rangers are independent observers onboard cruise ships who monitor for compliance with state and federal environmental requirements, as well as proper sanitation, health and safety practices.
The program is the first of its kind anywhere, and was part of the Cruise Ship Initiative which voters approved in 2006. The program was first fully implemented in 2008, and is funded by $4 per berth fees from the cruise industry. The DEC contracted Crowley Marine Services to hire and train the Ocean Rangers.
Mickelson, a Coast Guard-licensed marine engineer, said he joined the Ocean Ranger Program for the opportunity to be involved in a new endeavor.
"I found out about (the Ocean Ranger jobs) through our union newsletter," Mickelson said. "It seemed like quite an adventure - brand new, never before done."
During 2008, Ocean Rangers were onboard 88 percent of the large cruise ships that entered Southeast Alaskan waters. More than half of the Ocean Rangers are returning for a second season, including Mickelson.
Mickelson said he works 12-hour days and spends two or three hours a day on paperwork. With an escort, he has access to the engine room and any other place on the ship he requests.
Like many of the Ocean Rangers, Mickelson initially experienced some difficulty last year in obtaining access to all areas of the ship.
"They were leery of getting me to the control room," he said.
According to the 2008 Ocean Ranger Summary Report put out by the DEC, in a survey conducted in June of 2008, Ocean Rangers reported adequate access on 67 percent of the ships. After a meeting between DEC and cruise industry representatives, access improved, with rangers surveyed at the end of July reporting sufficient access on 93 percent of the ships.
"I don't feel any access problems now," Mickelson said. "It seems more relaxed towards us on the ship."
Mickelson said he spends a good deal of his time onboard cruise ships in the company of the ship's Environmental Officer (EO). Mickelson said the EO will look for most of the same things that Ocean Rangers look for.
"There really not a lot of difference," Mickelson said. "We might make some observations of crew members he doesn't see. He can't be everywhere, of course."
According to the DEC, there is some discrepancy between the items the Ocean Rangers and the cruise ships themselves report to the DEC.
DEC Cruise Ship Program Manager Denise Koch said that in 2007, cruise ships self-reported eight oil items to DEC's Division of Spill Prevention and Response (SPAR). In 2008, cruise ships self-reported 14 oil items to DEC SPAR. Of these 14, nine had to do with the same vessel.
In 2008, Ocean Rangers reported 74 petroleum-related items to the DEC, along with 19 wastewater items and 13 health items.
Thirty-one of the 74 oil-related reports were of "mystery sheens" in harbors, where it was not clear whether the oil originated from the cruise ship or another nearby vessel. As stated in the summary report, since vessels are not required by Alaska law to report pollution not believed to originate from them, many of these sheens would remain unreported without the Ocean Rangers.
Being an independent observer can make an Ocean Ranger feel like a lone ranger on the ships. Although Mickelson said he enjoyed the mix of people he meets on the ships, he said it can sometimes be lonely to be neither passenger nor crew.
"In a way, it can be a lonely job," Mickelson said. "You can be out there with 3,000 people and there's no one you can have a heart-to-heart with."
Read the 2008 Ocean Ranger Summary Report online at http://www.dec.state.ak.us/water/cruise_ships/pdfs/2008_Ocean%20Ranger_Report.pdf.