As shipping traffic increases in the Southern Ocean, the chance of similar accidents also rises - and these may not occur under circumstances as favorable as the Explorer's. Larger and larger ships also present a significant risk, because they carry larger amounts of fuel and passengers. In the Antarctic, it is always difficult, sometimes impossible, to mount rescue operations or environmental remediation. The bigger the ship, the more difficult these problems would be. ASOC was pleased by the decision at the XXXII ATCM to limit landings from any ship with over 500 passengers. Limiting the size of ships in this way minimizes the risk to humans and the environment, while additionally limiting the environmental footprint of human activity, since large cruise ships discharge considerable amounts of waste.
The institution of a ban on heavy fuel oil in polar waters starting in 2011 is a positive development. Heavy fuel oil pollutes more in comparison to lighter fuel oils because it is slower to break down in the marine environment. Read our complete briefing here. However, greater protections are needed. ASOC believes it is vital to:
- Convince IMO and the Antarctic Treaty Parties to establish the highest levels of safety and environmental protection, including appropriate ice-strengthening standards, for all ships using the Southern Ocean through a legally binding Polar Code;
- Stop discharges of garbage, grey water and other pollutants through tighter regulations and better enforcement;
- Establish a regional vessel traffic control system, beginning with the Peninsula area;
- Establish ships’ routing measures and areas to be avoided (for safety or environmental protection) in the most frequently used regions
- Create an integrated liability regime to enhance Annex VI to the Environmental Protocol, which will ensure that those who cause damage to the environment are legally liable for their actions
The legally binding Polar Code is currently being negotiated within the International Maritime Organization (IMO). ASOC is very involved in this process to ensure that the strongest possible provisions are included in the code.
ASOC considers that a Mandatory Code addressing Antarctic Shipping should:
- Apply to the full extent of Antarctic polar waters south of the Antarctic Convergence;
- Be relevant to all vessels operating south of the Antarctic Convergence, including dedicated provisions for fishing vessels;
- Require application to existing vessels where practicable, particularly where vessels are being converted for polar service;
- Require that only polar class vessels with adequate ice-strengthening operate in polar ice covered waters; and
- Comprehensively address vessel safety, remote search and rescue and environmental response, and environmental protection.
Read our complete briefing on the essential elements of a Polar Code here.