Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 5 News List

New Zealand calls for tighter controls on Antarctic ships

AFP , WELLINGTON AND BUENOS AIRES

New Zealand yesterday called for tighter controls on “inadequately regulated” shipping in the Southern Ocean, after a cruise liner ran aground off Antarctica.

Although no one was hurt on board the Ocean Nova, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the accident highlighted the need for action before there was a disaster in the area.

It was the fourth accident involving a passenger ship in Antarctica in just over a year.

The number of people cruising in Antarctic waters has quadrupled in the past 15 years to 46,000 last year, which has resulted in visits from bigger tourist ships that are not suited to the conditions, McCully said.

“If nothing is done, it will be only a matter of time before there is a disaster in the Southern Ocean,” he said, while announcing a conference in New Zealand later this year on ship-borne tourism in the Antarctic region.

“The focus will be on how to prevent a major maritime accident, and how to put controls around what is a rapidly expanding but currently inadequately regulated industry,” he said.

“Tourist ships pose a significant risk not only to human life, but also to a pristine, fragile environment,” he said.

McCully said the cruise industry had to realize the Southern Ocean was “a remote, inhospitable and dangerous place for tourist vessels” and difficult for search and rescue services to reach.

Representatives from the 47 countries that are party to the Antarctic Treaty, along with delegates from the tourism industry and non-governmental organizations will attend the conference.

The 65 passengers and 41 crew members on board the Ocean Nova have been safely transferred to another ship, the Clipper Adventure, the operator and Argentine navy said on Wednesday.

The Clipper Adventure will return to Ushuaia, Argentina’s southernmost city and the original jumping-off point for the 15-day voyage exploring the polar circle.

The Ocean Nova ran aground earlier on Tuesday morning amid high winds, but was unable to break free during the rising evening tide as officials had hoped. The passengers were more than a week into their 15-day voyage exploring the polar circle.

Quark Expeditions said “continuing high winds thwarted the attempt to dislodge” the ship on Wednesday afternoon.

But several hours after the passengers were rescued, the late evening tide lifted the Ocean Nova away from the rocky shore. An inspection by divers showed no damage or leaking, so the ship will host a separate 20-day expedition of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands beginning on Saturday, the operator said.

The incident was the fourth accident involving a passenger ship in Antarctica in just over a year.

Last December, an Argentine-run vessel, Ciudad de Ushuaia, ran aground. The Chilean navy rescued its 89 passengers.

The previous December, a Norwegian-run liner, Fram, drifted with 256 passengers on board after its engines failed.

A month earlier, the ship Explorer hit an iceberg and sank. The 154 people on board were rescued.

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