Recent moves by the North West Cruise Ship Association, which represents the eight major lines that operate in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Canada, to prohibit certain kinds of otherwise permissible waste dumping and to fund efforts designed to help in oil-spill cleanups should buoy the spirits of those dedicated to protecting the ecology of the region.

For starters, the Vancouver-based association said that cruise ships will not dump raw sewage or ground-up food in those areas of the Inside Passage called "doughnut holes" -- bodies of water three miles or more from land -- where such dumping is technically legal.

John Hansen, who is president of the group, has been quoted as saying, "We will make it our policy to consider all areas of the Alaska Inside Passage, including the doughnut holes, to be part and parcel of the Inside Passage and the [environmentally protected] territorial waters of the U.S."

According to the association, its members operate 21 ships to Alaskan destinations from May to October, with more than 300 sailings, so the voluntary commitment by the lines could have a major impact on preserving the integrity of the region's ecology.

Coming as it does in the turgid wake of $6.5 million in fines assessed against association member Royal Caribbean International for illegal dumping in Alaskan waters, the pledge is both timely and appropriate.

As for oil spills, the association announced that it will station five quick-response barges in southeast Alaskan waters specially equipped with cleanup apparatus.

The group said one or two of the barges, which will cost about $1.3 million to design and build, should be operational by May. They eventually will be tied up at Gustavus, Skagway, Yakutat, Ketchikan and Juneau.

We hope they will never be needed. But if someday they are, it's reassuring to know they'll be on call.

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