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updated 5/6/2004 9:23:59 AM ET 2004-05-06T13:23:59

Royal Caribbean will add equipment to its line of cruise ships to better clean sewage and wastewater before it is dumped into the ocean, officials said Wednesday.

The equipment will reduce pollutants in the up to 24,000 gallons of sewage, or “blackwater,” and 265,000 gallons of “graywater” from laundries, showers, sinks and dishwashers the ships dump daily when at sea.

The announcement came a month after the nonprofit advocacy organization Oceana and other environmentalist groups called for the cruise line to clean up its waste to protect marine habitats and human health. At the time, the company accused the groups of “grandstanding.”

Oceana officials said Wednesday that Royal Caribbean’s decision was “a precedent-setting move.”

“Our hope all along has been that if we have Royal Caribbean do this the others will follow their lead,” spokesman Sam Haswell said.

In 1999, Royal Caribbean paid $27 million after acknowledging it had polluted repeatedly and lied to the Coast Guard about it. The company says it has improved its environmental practices since then.

Royal Caribbean now has the advanced waste treatment systems on three of its 29 vessels. They will eventually be added to the other ships and any new ships brought into the fleet.

Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Lynn Martenstein said the company could not give a time frame for when the rest of the ships would be outfitted.

Martenstein also said the company doesn’t know how much it will cost to revamp its fleet with the new technology until a filtration system is selected.

“This is very much a work in progress,” she said. “The commitment is there, both as a company and as an industry.”

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