Countries that manage Antarctica, including Australia and New Zealand, want strong new controls on visiting ships to reduce the growing threat of human and environmental disasters posed by exploding numbers of tourists, an official says.
Antarctica’s pristine environment, unpredictable and extreme weather, mostly uncharted waters and vast distances from habitation pose major dangers for vessels and major problems for rescuers in any emergency. In the past, most shipping in Antarctica has been limited to scientific vessels bringing researchers or supplies. Now there is an influx of tourists. Some 45,000 tourists visited Antarctica in 2008 and almost all of them are on ships carrying up to 1,000 passengers that also take many tonnes of heavy fuel oil, chemicals and garbage that can pollute the region. There are rules in place such as the removal of waste and tourists’ conduct near animal breeding grounds but there currently are no formal codes to regulate vessels or the use and carriage of heavy fuel oils. Few of the ships have hulls strengthened to withstand ice or crews experienced in navigating around icebergs. Experts from all key members of the Antarctic Treaty, which have overseen the management of the continent since the 1950s, want a tough new mandatory code for shipping and tourism in Antarctica. Australia and New Zealand are two of the dozen founding members of the Antarctic Treaty, along with the United States, Russia, Britain and others, and is among those leading the push for shipping regulation.