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Groups call for tougher Antarctic ships, standards

ice ship NOAA.jpgLast year’s sinking of the M/S Explorer, a cruise ship off Antarctica has prompted a gaggle of environmental groups to demand tougher curbs on who can voyage to the southern oceans.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition wants the International Maritime Organisation to make sure only ice strengthened ships are allowed to take tourists into Antarctic Waters. ASOC also wants ships using heavy oil banned, leaving only vessels using marine gas, which would dissipate more rapidly in the event of a spill.

“We fear that if nothing changes there will be a major disaster. We could see a very large oil spill or a large loss of life – or both,” says an ASOC spokesman (Daily Telegraph).

The groups also wants more limits on the amount of sewage and dirty water ships can discharge in the Antarctic.

A new document from ASOC lists last year’s sinking of the M/S Explorer alongside a number of other incidents:

2006 tourist ship M/V Lyubov Orlova grounds in the South Shetland Islands

2007 tourist ship M/V Nordkapp grounds in the South Shetland Islands

2007 tourist ship M/S Fram breaks down and drifts into a glacier before escaping

2007 trawler Argos Georgia loses power and engines; parts have to be airlifted to it

2007 whaling ship Nisshin Maru suffers serious accident in an “ice covered area”

“These recent incidents demonstrate the potential for serious loss of life and adverse impacts on the marine environment from vessels operating in the Antarctic,” says the document.

The ASOC is putting its faith in the IMO, saying it is “the only body that can agree stringent vessel standards, equipment and procedures in order to protect human life and the marine environment for all vessels using Antarctic waters” (BBC).

Here comes the geeky policy detail…

Friends of the Earth International has consultative status at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee and so the new document will be seen. However actual proposals on effluent, for example, will need to be submitted by a member state and it’s not clear if anyone will be willing to do that.

Recommendations on ship standards will likely come in later this year when another committee of the IMO, the Ship Design and Equipment sub-committee, reviews guidelines on Arctic ships and extends them to the Antarctic in the process.

This was agreed at a meeting earlier this month, but will not be mandatory.

An ASOC lawyer sets out their table on the BBC but on the Guardian Simon Jenkins argues “scientists and soldiers can no longer keep these paradises to themselves”.

Image: this vessel would likely not meet tougher standards (it shows USS Vincennes in pack ice in 1840) / NOAA


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