Friday, December 5, 2008

MV Ushuaia Runs Aground

The MV Ushuaia, a tourist cruise ship, ran aground in Cape Anna, Antarctica on December 4. Fortunately, all the passengers are safe and are on their way home. It also appears that a small fuel spill has also been contained and won't harm nearby penguin and blue-eyed shags. But we don't really have any clear information on how much fuel has been spilled and what plans are in place to prevent more fuel from leaking.

The main problem, as ASOC sees it, is that tourism continues to grow in Antarctica with little oversight by the Antarctic Treaty Parties. The MV Ushuaia had an experienced crew and a ship in good condition, as well as favorable weather conditions. But as tourism expands, new companies lacking in experience will no doubt enter the industry. Tour operators are also trying to bring ships with thousands of passengers (many cruises now are in the hundreds, the Ushuaia had under 200 passengers) into the Antarctic. These ships carry heavy fuel oil that could be extremely harmful to marine life. More people, bigger ships, and less experience could create very serious problems in the event of an accident.

The treacherous Antarctic environment requires extreme caution from travelers. Now is the time for the Antarctic Treaty system and the International Maritime Organization to develop and enforce regulations that will protect humans and the environment.


Callum said...

Glad to hear all pax, staff and crew are safe. Perhaps of more immediate environmental concern from the oil slick is the likely presence of humpback whales in Wilhelmina Bay, which may be the reason that the Ushuaia was in that location.

Eddy Van Hemelrijck said...

We have been on the MV Ushuaia in March 2007. First of all we are very pleased that everybody is safe and well. We hope the ship can be rescued as well. Both staff and crew during our voyage proved to be very professional and very environmental friendly. It is always a discussion whether tourism should be allowed or not in such a fragile and protected environment. I believe it should be, but restricted, and under certain rules and conditions. The Ushuaia staff made us true ambassadors to help protect Antarctica beyond 2020. Eddy Van Hemelrijck, Professor Environmental Economics

Adam F Blakester said...

I also wonder what kind of assurances, and insurances, should be required of tourism operators (and all other commercial operations) in the Antarctic wilderness.

While good risk management is essential, what recourse and financial reserves/insurances are available to deal with the aftermath such as caused by MV Ushuaia?


Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said...

Adam, good point. It always seems that other countries must come to the rescue. What happens if there is a large spill? Will a tour operator be able to contribute to the cleanup or will the Antarctic treaty parties have to do all the work?

Eddy, I'm glad that you had a good tourism experience. Antarctic tourism can be good precisely because it can inspire people like you to protect Antarctica. The main worry of ASOC is that without better regulations, ships with crews not as good at the Ushuaia will get into accidents, hurting humans and/or the environment in the process.

Charles said...

I was on the Ushuaia when the grounding happened. The crew was fantastic and we were well taken care of. While I don't know how it happened I can say that I was never scared or worried because of how well the crew handled the accident.

If anyone is thinking about taking a Antarctic trip I would never hesitate to go again. I may try to return in 2010 even!!!