Focus On Cruising

Exploring the Wonderful World of Cruise Ships

Big Ships Banned From Antarctica

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It’s official.  The International Maritime Organization ((IMO) adopted a ban on using and carrying heavy fuel oil on ships sailing in Antarctic waters.  Beginning in August 2011, ships which carry more than 500 passengers, and those which use or carry heavy fuel oil, will no longer be permitted to enter those waters.  The tourist industry will be limited to the smaller expedition vessels.  The IMO, with the concurrence of the Antarctic Treaty Parties and the industry-affiliated International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators, is concerned by the potential damage a heavy oil spill can cause.  Heavy fuel oil dissipates more slowly than light fuel oil, particularly in cold waters.  A spill, especially of the volume carried by a 100,000 gross ton cruise ship, would have a significant impact on an already stressed environment.

I think the IMO acted responsibly and did the right thing.  Antarctica is simply too important and too precious to put at risk.  Its full impact on the earth’s weather and her oceans is imperfectly understood.  There is agreement, however, that the impact is enormous.  There is also growing recognition that Antarctica is more fragile than previously thought and already under significant stress.  Measures need to be taken to protect and sustain the Antarctic region, and are to be applauded.

Next season, then, will be the last time the larger ships will carry passengers to Antarctica.  Sadly, for those who have yet to fulfill their dreams of seeing Antarctica, it has just become more difficult and more expensive.  It is estimated that total capacity will be reduced to 6000 to 7000 passengers a year, down roughly 9000 passengers from the recently completed 2009/2010 season.  While the large cruise ships and the expedition vessels are very different products, there is no question in my mind that their target audiences overlap.  They are not mutually exclusive.  I would fully expect to see fares on the expedition vessels rise from their already lofty levels.  In fact, if my guess is correct, I would be surprised if they didn’t rise.

There is, then, some urgency to act.  For those of you with a strong desire to explore Antarctica, but who are also unwilling or unable to pay the fares charged by the expedition vessels, you need to avail yourselves of the chance while it is still possible.  If there is one thing I learned from going there, it’s this  –  Antarctica needs to be seen.   Antarctica is important.   Go!

Some Polar Thoughts

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Well the trip is over, luggage unpacked, wash done.  The dog is back from her vacation at the vet’s, I’m back to work, and I’ve settled back into my routine.

This time, however, there’s a difference.  I’ve gone to special places before.  Siem Reap in Cambodia, for example, is pure magic.  But Antarctica is an experience that surpasses everyplace I’ve ever been.  I described it as transformative in one of my posts.  That wasn’t hyperbole.  It truly was life changing, overwhelming, indeed transformative.  Having been privileged to experience it, I am a different person from the one I was before.  In a sense I’m still there, or perhaps more correctly, it is here within me, a part of me.

But what is the take-away, aside from these vivid memories?  Counter-intuitively, perhaps, Antarctica has left me with a new appreciation for the fragility of the earth.  This harshest of all regions has increased my awareness of what we have to lose, or perhaps what we are losing.  There is quite a bit of debate, I know, about global warming.  There are good people on both sides who passionately believe that their positions are correct.  In fact, the senior scientist among the lecturers on board Star Princess is a skeptic.

I‘m not in a position to judge scientifically if global warming is a reality or not.  What I do know is that one question keeps resonating through my mind  –  what if?  What if those who are sounding the call to action are right?  What if we don’t respond quickly or resolutely?  Do we reach a tipping point beyond which we simply can’t reverse the process, no matter how hard we finally try?  Can we face that possibility and not respond?  I hope not.