The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO), the world’s top maritime body, has agreed to curb harmful sulphur emissions by 2015 and has invited nations to submit proposals to limit shipping’s impact on Antarctica’s environment. The U.N. agency has agreed to impose sulphur limits in special Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) of 0.1 percent by 2015, down from the current 1.5 percent. The tightening is needed to lower sulphur emissions in coastal areas, where they have proven to be a major health hazard in heavily populated areas. Currently there are only two SECAs: one in the Baltic Sea and one in the North Sea. The regulations will be imposed in two phases: cleaner-burning distillate fuels will be substituted for sulphur-high fuel oils in SECAs by 2015, followed by a gradual lowering of all sulphur content in fuels by 2020-2025.
The IMO has also called on nations to submit proposals that address the concerns outlined in “Information Paper on Southern Ocean Vessel Issues,” submitted to the IMO by Friends of the Earth International. The paper calls for the IMO to ban ships fueled by heavy oil or without reinforced hulls from Antarctica’s waters. One of the concerns mentioned in the paper is the five-fold increase in the number of tourists visiting Antarctica over the past 15 years; 7,552 tourists visited during 2006-07. The worry is that many of the tourist vessels are not ice-strengthened, increasing the likelihood of serious accidents and the risk of an oil spillage if a ship gets into trouble. The International Association of Antarctica Tourism Operators has already documented six incidents in little more than a year that carried a risk of major contamination.
Citation: Friends of the Earth International. 2008. Information Paper on Southern Ocean Vessel Issues. Available at: http://www.asoc.org/portals/0/pdfs/ASOC%20IMO%20Information%20Paper%20012508.pdf