Monday, May 18, 2009

Will High Fuel Costs Tamp Down Antarctic Tourism?

Moves to tighten restrictions on the type of fuel oil used by ships traveling through the Antarctic might have a chilling effect (apologies, couldn't resist) on the industry. According to a UK newspaper, some cruise lines would cancel their Antarctic tours if stricter IMO rules take effect. Currently, ships are not allowed to use so-called heavy fuel in the Antarctic (defined as south of 60 degrees latitude), but can carry it on board and use it when outside of the designated area. Marine gas oil is used within the area. This new rule, which would fall under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and would enter into force in 2011, will raise fuel costs for tour operators. It appears that larger vessels, those carrying more than 500 passengers, will be the ones most likely to cut out Antarctic cruises due to the higher costs of marine gas oil. A major reason for the ban is that an oil spill of heavy fuel oil would be much more hazardous to the environment than one of marine gas oil.

The sinking of the fairly small cruise ship the Explorer in 2007 made the international community all too aware of the possibility of fuel spills in the aftermath of shipping accidents. A similar incident involving one of the larger cruise vessels would be disastrous if onboard fuel were to leak into surrounding waters. Environmental concerns aside, the chances of rescuing passengers from a ship carrying more than 500 people in the Antarctic are not very good. The weather is too unpredictable and the areas too far from places with rescue capabilities. Overall, having fewer large ships in the Antarctic is probably safer for the environment and for people. Let's hope the rules do indeed take effect.

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