Saturday, September 16, 2006

Risky Antartica Cruise

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition has asked the United States to seek environmental evaluation of a proposed visit by a giant cruise ship to Antarctica. Forest & Bird, which is a coalition member, has concerns that the visit by the Golden Princess this summer could end in disaster. At 109,000 tonnes, the Golden Princess would be by far the largest tourist vessel to ever visit Antarctica. It can carry 3700 people – the largest number of people to ever visit Antarctica in a single vessel, and more than the total peak population of all 37 stations in Antarctica put together. If the vessel got into trouble, rescue of that many people from Antarctic waters would be virtually impossible.Forest & Bird Antarctic spokesperson Debs Martin says the six days the Golden Princess plans to spend in Antarctic waters includes vulnerable environments with high ecological values, where hydrographic charting is patchy. The Golden Princess is not believed to be ice strengthened. “The visit by the Golden Princess appears to be inviting misadventure, both in terms of the potential for loss of human life and severe environmental damage on a huge scale if anything goes wrong,” Debs Martin says. “Tragically, New Zealanders know from our experience of the Erebus disaster the cost in terms of human life that can occur in Antarctica. We would urge the United States to think very carefully about the potential for another disaster.” The coalition has asked the United States to require a Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation from the California-based cruise company Princess Cruises before the visit goes ahead. Such evaluations can be sought if a proposal involves potential impact that will be more than minor or transitory, and would allow other Antarctic Treaty nations including New Zealand to have their say.

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