New Zealand backs moves for mandatory code in polar tourism

18:29, December 09, 2009      

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New Zealand supports tougher controls of cruise ships visiting Antarctic waters to address environmental threats from a tourism boom on the frozen continent, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said on Wednesday.

"Considering Antarctica's harsh conditions and remoteness, the Antarctic cruise tourism industry is currently inadequately regulated," the foreign minister said in a statement.

An Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts (ATME) in Wellington this week is considering a mandatory code for vessel design and construction, equipment, crew training and safe operation, of cruise ships to Antarctica.

The results of their talks will go to the Antarctic Treaty states' meeting in Uruguay next May.

McCully said the sinking of the Canadian tourist vessel Explorer off the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007 was a wake-up call, and three other vessels had gone aground on the continent in the past three years.

"Because of the demand for cruises, shipping companies have been putting up larger vessels which are not suitable for the conditions they encounter," he said.

"Some carry up to 5,000 people, and even with the best efforts of all concerned, it is hard to see how that number of people could be rescued if an emergency occurred."

McCully said the environmental impact from a vessel spilling fuel after going aground or sinking was also worrying, and the Parliament was considering legislation to make people operating in the Antarctic, including tour companies, liable in the event of such a catastrophe.

The proposed code would operate on a voluntary basis until it is ratified by treaty states and becomes legally binding.

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